'New blood vessels' breakthrough offers hope for toothache sufferers

Lucy Stock, Dentist at Gentle Dental Care, Belfast on how a new breakthrough could revolutionise root canal procedures

An innovative new idea could lead to the end of root canal treatments as we know them
Lucy Stock

AN INNOVATIVE idea could lead to the end of root canal treatments as we know them.

The agonising pain of a tooth abscess has left most of us walking the floors at some stage of our life and the traditional way to save an abscessed tooth is to have a root canal treatment.

Imagine a big, back molar tooth like a three-legged stool. Well, inside each leg / root there is a tube that contains the tooth nerve and blood vessels.

A tooth abscess happens when the nerves inside the tooth root tubes die creating the ball of pus that leads to the unwelcome pain. A root treatment is when the dentist cleans out the root tubes, removing any nerve or blood vessel material, and then fills them back up with hard rubber.

Root canal treatments are broadly successful at eliminating abscesses and pain, however they leave teeth brittle and more susceptible to fracture over time. This is why crowns are often recommended on root filled teeth to prevent them from splitting.

To overcome these issues a team of researchers at OHSU in Oregon, have developed a process by which they can engineer new blood vessels in teeth, creating better long-term outcomes for patients.

"Root canal therapy eliminates the tooth's blood and nerve supply, rendering it lifeless and void of any biological response or defence mechanism," says principal investigator Luiz Bertassoni, assistant professor of restorative dentistry and biomedical engineering in the OHSU School of Medicine and dentistry.

"Without this functionality, adult teeth may be lost much sooner, which can result in much greater concerns, such as the need for dentures or dental implants,"

To address these issues, Bertassoni and colleagues used a 3D printing-inspired process to create blood vessels in the lab.

They placed a fibre mould made of sugar molecules across the root canal of extracted human teeth and injected a gel-like material filled with dental pulp cells.

The researchers removed the fibre which created a long micro-channel in the root tube and inserted blood vessel wall cells into it.

After seven days, dentin-producing cells grew near the tooth walls and artificial blood vessels formed inside the tooth.

"This result proves that fabrication of artificial blood vessels can be a highly effective strategy for fully regenerating the function of teeth. We believe that this finding may change the way that root canal treatments are done in the future," said Bertassoni.

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