The dentist. For most people those words invoke varying levels of dread and discomfort. But new research may suggest a kindler, gentler way of treating teeth that could replace some of the drills and medieval torture instruments with shiny new lasers.
Research led by David Mooney with Harvard University’s Wyss Institute suggests that low-power lasers can be used to stimulate the stem cells in teeth to repair themselves. And it’s possible that the technique could be used for general wound-healing, bone regenerating, and more.
The team used a low-powered laser to stimulate stem cells to form dentin. Dentin is the hard interior material that covers the fleshy pulp of your teeth.
One phase of the experiment involved both animal trials, which included doing difficult tiny dentistry on mice. The mice treated with the laser recovered more dentin. The team also did experiments to nail down the molecular mechanism involved in how the laser treatment worked, isolating the molecular changes the laser causes and figuring out the protein that reacts to them to regrow dentin.
Figuring out exactly how the process works was important. Since medical lasers were introduced in the 1960s there has been anecdotal evidence that they can stimulate rejuvenation, but the new research provides a scientific basis for effect that can be explored in planned human trials.
Treatments with stem cells are still a difficult thing to get in the hands of medical professionals, both because of technical challenges and because they still make politicians and regulators nervous. But the simplicity of the laser technique makes it more likely to come to a dentist near you.
“Our treatment modality does not introduce anything new to the body, and lasers are routinely used in medicine and dentistry, so the barriers to clinical translation are low,” said Mooney. “It would be a substantial advance in the field if we can regenerate teeth rather than replace them.”
Image from NPR