Life

Ask the Dentist: Alzheimer's treatment could be key to regenerating decayed teeth

Lucy Stock, dentist at Gentle Dental Care, Belfast, tells of research into how tooth decay could be reversed with the aid of an Alzheimer's drug

Scientists have shown that a drug developed for Alzheimer's disease can regenerate dentine in a tooth damaged by decay
Lucy Stock

COULD miniature biodegradable sponges be the future for regenerating teeth? Imagine instead of getting a normal filling, the dentist could put in a tiny sponge and the tooth would regrow around it.

Well excitingly, scientists at Kings College London believe this could be the future. They have used a drug that has been developed for Alzheimer's disease and proven that it can regenerate new dentine that has previously been destroyed by tooth decay.

A tooth is made up of an outer layer of hard enamel and then the softer mineralised substance dentine lies underneath. Decay that is confined to the enamel layer can be hardened with a change in your diet but once the decay has broken through to the underlying dentine normally that's when you need a filling.

At the moment there are regenerative creams available to dentists which help the tooth repair itself by laying down new dentine in the base of the hole; this keeps the tooth nerve alive and means that the tooth doesn't need to have a root canal filling. However, there's nothing that we can use to make the tooth autofill in the entire hole.

Scientists soaked a biodegradable sponge with the Alzheimer's drug called Tideglusib and placed it inside tooth cavities in mice. The sponges triggered dentine growth and within six weeks the collagen structure of the sponges melted away, leaving only the intact tooth – complete, natural repair.

The drug works by stimulating the stem cells contained in the pulp of the tooth which generates new dentine in large cavities, potentially reducing the need for fillings or cements.

The initial experiments have been carried out in mouse teeth. Yet as King's College London Dental Institute professor and lead author Paul Sharpe said: “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.”

Collagen sponges are commercially available and clinically approved, again adding to the potential of the treatment's swift pick-up and use in dental clinics.

Professor Sharpe added: “The simplicity of our approach makes it ideal as a clinical dental product for the natural treatment of large cavities, by providing both pulp nerve protection and restoring dentine. There's a big need for biology to impact upon dentistry and drag it out of the 19th century.”

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