Have you ever had to get a root canal? Those who have had one done know that the procedure is less than pleasant. However, researchers from across the globe, including South Korea, Japan, United States and United Kingdom, are working to use stem cells to regenerate pulp that is damaged by harmful anaerobic bacteria. According to The Wall Street Journal, although the research is currently in its early stages, regenerative tissue could reduce the necessity for uncomfortable root canals entirely.
In 2010, nearly $108 billion was spent on dental services, which includes both out-of-pocket and elective care. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly half of children in the United States will have at least one cavity treatment by the time they reach 15 years of age. Similarly, 25 percent of all adults in the U.S. will have all of their natural teeth missing by the time they hit 65 years. The most recent data from the CDC, which is from a 2005-06 survey, found that 15.1 million root canals are performed in the United States annually.
Tooth decay, which takes place when anaerobic bacteria accumulate in the mouth and take over the tooth's natural process to repair, is the main culprit that causes one to need a cavity treatment, and inevitably, a root canal. The damage can continue and erode the outer enamel, which travels deep within the interior of the tooth where the soft pulp tissue is located. Once the soft pulp is dead or damaged, a root canal or tooth extraction is often necessary. Pulp is the part of the tooth that allows you to detect hot and cold pressure and other sensations. This is also where the stem cells are located.
Researchers are trying to encourage these stem cells to re?-grow the tooth tissue that was damaged by anaerobic bacteria, thus ending the need for root canals.
"Dental cavities and inflammation of the surrounding pulp is a challenging public health issue, as tooth decay not only can cause a patient great pain but it also can lead to other serious health issues including heart disease," Dr. Misako Nakashima of the National Center for Geriatrics and Gerontology in Obu, Japan, told the Daily Mail.
Early work with animals shows that the research has potential, but scientists are trying to figure out how to configure lab work for human use. Some are concerned about finding a way to grow entirely new teeth, while others are focused on developing new, healthy pulp in the mouth.