In a recent study published by Scientific Reports, scientists were able to grow a clinically significant amount of natural tooth structure (http://www.nature.com/articles/srep39654). While this study was only a piece of the puzzle, it does shine some light on the future of dentistry. Does it mean you can stop brushing and flossing? Probably not but it may make your experience at the dentist much more pleasant.
Let’s start with a little tooth anatomy. Your tooth is made up of several layers, most notably for this topic are the Enamel, Dentin and Pulp. The Enamel is the hard outer shell of our tooth. The Dentin is a softer layer just beneath the Enamel. The Pulp is the nerve and blood supply that run in the middle of your tooth. When you have a cavity, you often don’t notice it until the bacteria has started to get close to the Pulp because that is where the blood and nerve supply to your tooth lies. Currently, dentists fight these cavities by removing the decayed and infected tooth structure and placing filling material into the void. Sometimes when the bacteria infects the Pulp of the tooth, the entire blood and nerve supply has to be removed and replaced by a filling material (this is called a root canal).
Now, this study suggests that it is possible that a tooth could heal itself to a degree. The immediate implication for this could serve as a base layer to be covered with a filling material. When a cavity is large enough to get to your Pulp, dentists could place some material into the base of the cavity and then cover it with filling material. This would allow your tooth to heal itself and fill in the space with natural tooth structure. This potentially eliminates the need for a root canal on your tooth. Why would we still place a filling if the tooth is going to lay down new Dentin? Remember, Dentin is softer than Enamel. In cases where Dentin is exposed on the biting surfaces, the Dentin often wears away. To avoid this we can place a harder substance to cover the Dentin (i.e. a metal or tooth colored filling or crown).
Using it as a base layer over larger fillings is just one of the many implications this study has on the future of dentistry. The most dramatic of which would be to grow a whole new tooth. Imagine, just like sharks, a tooth breaks and we just grow you a new one! That would be Jawsome!
While this study is amazing, don’t stop brushing your teeth just yet. Nothing is better than your natural teeth. Even if we can regrow parts of your tooth, it may never be as good as the original.