The drug was found to stimulate stem cells in the pulp of teeth, resulting in new dentine production and natural tooth repair.
Scientists discovered that the drug, which has been tested in clinical trials for Alzheimer’s disease, also stimulates the natural tooth regrowth mechanism, allowing teeth to repair cavities.
Researchers at Kings College London found that the drug, Tideglusib, stimulates the stem cells contained in the pulp of teeth so that they generate new dentine – the mineralised material under the enamel.
Scientists inserted small, biodegradable sponges made of collagen soaked in Tideglusib into cavities. The sponges triggered dentine growth and within six weeks, the damage was repaired.
So far, the procedure has only been used in mouse teeth, but Professor Paul Sharpe, lead author of the study, of the Dental Institute, from King’s College London told The Telegraph, “Using a drug that has already been tested in clinical trials for Alzheimer’s disease provides a real opportunity to get this dental treatment quickly into clinics.”
Although the procedure has only been used in mouse teeth, it was shown to fill the whole injury site.
Professor Sharpe says, “The simplicity of our approach makes it ideal as a clinical dental product for the natural treatment of large cavities, by providing both pulp protection and restoring dentine.
“There’s a big need for biology to impact upon dentistry and drag it out of the 19th century,” Professor Sarpe said.
Dr Nigel Carter, CEO of the Oral Health Foundation says creating a more natural way for the tooth to repair itself could be a far less invasive treatment option for patients than current cavity treatments.
“With dental phobia still being very common, using a natural way to stimulate the renewal of dentine could be an especially comforting proposal for these groups, for which undergoing treatment can often be a cause of great anxiety.”
Because Tideglusib has already been shown to be safe in clinical trials of patients with Alzheimer’s disease the treatment could be fast-tracked into dental practices.
The research was published in the journal Scientific Reports.
Regrowing an entire tooth in future
The holy grail for dental researchers is the ability to regrow an entire missing tooth. Sharpe has done this in mice, but doing the same in humans raises ethical and legal concerns. It would involve the creation of a so-called tooth primordium (a tooth in its earliest stage of development) and implanting it in the jaw where the missing tooth had been. To create a tooth primordium, it’s necessary to harvest stem cells from human embryos – which would have legal implications.
“Embryos have the only cells we know of that can make a tooth,” Sharpe says. “Our adult mouths don’t make teeth. These cells are no longer present.”
But if regrowing entire teeth is impractical now, scientists believe they will make it happen one day. “We need to find another way which doesn’t involve cells from embryos,” Sharpe says. “That’s going to take a lot of research and more time. I believe it can happen, but it’s not going to be in the next few years.”