An article presented this week by MSN news shared the results of a study by researchers which indicated a potential to regrow teeth in the future. Although, the reality of regenerating entire functioning teeth may be many years away or entirely impossible, the implications for our profession and our patients is quite real. The potential benefits with lasers in dentistry are very real and very current.
In the study, researchers stimulated tooth pulp tissues with a low power laser similar to what is used today to help gum tissues heal in the treatment of periodontal disease. They were able to show that the lasers stimulated the cells of the tooth pulp chamber to generate dentin. Dentin is the material that makes up the majority of the tooth structure.
A tooth has enamel, the hard outer covering protecting the surface, dentin that provides the structural integrity, cementum that lines the root surface, and the pulp chamber that provides nourishment, directs tooth development and provides sensation. Throughout adulthood, even after a tooth is fully developed, the pulp tissues slowly and continually create dentin. This is referred to as secondary dentin.
In this study the lasers apparently stimulated an increased production of dentin by cells that typically reside in the pulp tissues, possibly through increased normal activity, or, through helping cells differentiate into dentin producing cells.
One potential implication for all of us trying to manage dental disease is the concept of helping to prevent the need for a root canal when a tooth has decay that is very close to the pulp chamber. If the rate of dentin formation can be increased we may be able to help protect the pulp chamber. It also may help the the pulp chamber heal from a bacterial insult. Typically, if bacteria gets into the pulp camber the tooth will eventually need root canal therapy or need to be extracted if untreated.
Another possible benefit from laser therapy may be the treatment of sensitive teeth. If we can help insulate the nerve of a tooth by the formation of dentin underlying the sensitive area of the tooth or exposed root surface, relief for many patients may not be far off.
The good news is that this study may provide solid evidence that lasers have an effect on cells that results in a positive increase in activity that benefits healing.
Don’t hold your breath in anticipation that dentists may someday be able to grow new teeth. We are exited, however, about the current implications for management of gum disease through adjunctive laser therapy and the potential near future management of tooth disease. It is important to realize that management of dental health needs be ongoing with timely and prudent treatment of disease.