Fillings could be consigned to history after scientists discovered that a drug already trialled in Alzheimer’s patients can encourage tooth regrowth and repair cavities. Researchers at King’s 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.
Teeth already have the capability to regenerate dentine if the pulp inside the tooth becomes exposed through a trauma or infection, but can only naturally make a very thin layer, and not enough to fill the deep cavities caused by tooth decay.
But tideglusib switches off an enzyme called GSK-3, which prevents dentine from carrying on forming. Scientists showed it is possible to soak a small biodegradable sponge with the drug and insert it into a cavity, where it triggers the growth of dentine and repairs the damage within six weeks. The tiny sponges are made out of collagen so they melt away over time, leaving only the repaired tooth.
Prof. Paul Sharpe of the Dental Institute, King’s College London and lead author of the study, said: “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.
“In addition, 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.”
Currently, dentists use man-made cements or fillings to treat larger cavities and fill holes in teeth.