How stem cell treatment might replace root canals

For people who really don’t want to get those wonderfully torturous root canals anymore, there’s a new breakthrough involving stem cells that could eliminate the need for them entirely. 

Dental X-Ray showing the upper jaw of a 55-year-old male. One tooth has had a root canal operation performed, and the adjacent teeth show a total of three filled cavities. (Getty)
Dental X-Ray showing the upper jaw of a 55-year-old male. One tooth has had a root canal operation performed, and the adjacent teeth show a total of three filled cavities. (Getty)

Stem cell therapy may soon eliminate the need for painful root canal procedures, where a dentist must drill deep into a tooth's cavity to artificially anchor it to the jaw.


The idea for the novel use of stem cells was first developed by researchers at Harvard and the University of Nottingham and placed 2nd in the 2016 Royal Society of Chemistry’s Emerging Technologies Competition. 

Here’s how it works:

1. When cavities are drilled out, sometimes the fillings don’t stop the decay process. If that goes on long enough, then eventually, the tooth will need to be drilled out/excavated all the way through the root. This removes blood vessels, nerves, and connecting tissue (all of this is known as the pulp). A tooth that has this procedure done to it is effectively dead because the material used in fillings will kill organic cells.

2. The theory is that injecting a tooth with filling made partly of stem cells will stimulate it to heal itself, without the need to resort to those extreme measures.

3. If successful, we might see the need for dentures and dental implants reduce significantly. And tooth loss, in general, could be minimized. 

For dental phobics, especially, this could be fabulous news; there is nothing quite like a root canal, and it’s about as invasive as it gets. Removing the need for dentists to utter the terror-inducing words, “YOU NEED A ROOT CANAL” could be a huge incentive for people (like me) who are traumatized by those visits to get things taken care of more quickly, to boot. 

I would love to utter the phrase into in the mirror, “Teeth, heal thyselves!”

How about you?

And to better understand what stem cells can really do (they’re little performers!), here’s a video by some of the same folks at Harvard on how they can be transformed into heart cells. 

Great stuff. 

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