Millions of Americans suffer from tooth decay and cavities, which often results in the need for uncomfortable dental procedures such as fillings and root canals to correct. Fortunately for those dealing with damage to their oral health, a new treatment method may provide dentists in the near future with a pain free solution. According to a new study from Harvard University, researchers claim to have discovered a way to regrow parts of teeth using one of the most futuristic tools imaginable – lasers.
Published in the journal Science Translation Medicine, researchers at Harvard detail how they successfully used laser light therapy on rats to spur the regrowth of dentin, the soft interior of a tooth normally surrounded by the hard outer shell called enamel. Researchers believe that if the treatment method also proves successful in humans, it could potentially eliminate the need for a variety of common dental procedures like fillings and crowns, and even replace the need for more complex restoration operations.
A Bright Future
The success of the laser treatment is due to a native protein referred to as transforming growth factor beta, or TGF-beta. During early tests of dentin tissues, researchers found that TGF-beta changed dramatically when introduced to a focused light beam. Additional research found that then hit with light, the growth factor caused stimulation of the stem cells present in the dentin.
Once activated by the laser, the TGF-beta causes existing stem cells found in the tissue to bind together, and then induces those stem cells to separate so they can begin to proliferate and rebuild the dentin, explained researchers at Harvard.
A number of studies have attempted to manipulate stem cells in order to cause tissue regeneration to occur, but most existing techniques have focused on reintroducing altered stem cells into the body or using added growth factors to direct stem cell populations. With this new form of laser therapy, the only external factor outside of the body being used is light, which stimulates TGF-beta already found in the body.
According to researchers, photons from the light, not heat, stimulates TGF-beta into action. When light is directed at dentin, oral tissue begins to absorb the photons, which begins to activate molecules called reactive oxygen species (ROS) that naturally occur in the body. TGF-beta is then stimulated by ROS, resulting in a chain reaction that caused dentin to rebuild.
Researchers did note that the power of the laser must be exact and that it cannot produce any heat in order to cause dentin regrowth.
Treatment Not Far Away
To test the effectiveness of this type of light therapy, researchers created rats with tooth defects to serve as a test group. Researchers then directed a laser on the exposed tooth structures and soft tissues underneath. After a 12-week period, researchers discovered that the rats had developed new dentin in their teeth.
Based on this successful trial, researchers hope to begin clinical trails on humans in the near future, which could dramatically alter modern dentistry. Currently, if an individual suffers from a decayed or chipped tooth, dentist will use a synthetic substance to correct the problem or perform a root canal if the tooth’s dentin has become too infected to treat. Researchers note that this new method of treatment would allow dentists to forego these potentially comfortable procedures by simply regrowing the damaged portions of a patient’s teeth. Going forward, this type of therapy could also offer a variety of exciting possibilities for not only the treatment of oral health but other aspects of the body, as well.