Stem Cells Can Now Regrow Teeth

Can stem cells really regrow teeth? It sounds like something straight out of a science fiction movie. For most dental patients with missing teeth, there are only a few options: getting dental implants or false teeth. And for dental patients with cavities the remedy usually is a filling or cap. But, what if you could get new teeth – real teeth growing right in your mouth.

David Mooney and his team of researchers at Harvard’s Wyss Institute are working on making this science fact and not fiction. What’s his idea? To use lasers with stem cells and regrow teeth. He and his research team have developed a technique using a low-power laser. The laser’s job is to get stem cells to reform dentin. This could have huge implications for cosmetic dentistry, for wound healing, and even for bone restoration. Arthur Glosman DDS, famous cosmetic dentist in Beverly Hills specializing in dental implants, says: This could be the next big thing, even beyond teeth implants.

Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine

But, what are stem cells, anyway? Stem cells are a class of undifferentiated cells that can differentiate into specialized cell types by using proteins called growth factors. Adult stem cells can divide, or self-renew on an indefinite basis. Adding different growth factors can force these cells to develop into a particular type of tissue.

However, to accomplish this is not quite so easy. Many developments in using stem cells in regenerative medicine could regrow tissues in vitro for later transplantation into a person. This means a lot of technical care is involved. This remains a highly-regulated process. So therefore, progress can be slow. Mooney and his team say that they have come up with a new technique that could streamline this process. That would speed up the day when it can become a workable clinical option.

The Experiment

Mooney’s team drilled holes into the rats’ molars to simulate tooth decay. Next, they applied the adult stem cells to the pulp of the tooth. Then a non-ionizing, low-level laser was used stimulate the growth factors. The researchers then sealed the teeth with a temporary cap. This cap was worn for the next twelve weeks. Then subsequent high resolution x-ray imaging and microscopy analysis showed that dentin, the layer under the visible enamel, had started to grow back resulting from this laser and stem cell therapy. Restored dentin forms a kind of ‘dentin bridge’ that is a lot easier to see in humans than in rats, because of the size of their teeth.

The team then worked to identify which molecular mechanisms the laser had stimulated. They found that transforming growth factor beta-1 (TGF-⓵, a rather multifunctional protein that regulates cell proliferation and differentiation, was largely responsible for the regrowth of the dentin. First, the laser stimulated reactive oxygen species (ROS). ROS has an important function in cell signaling and other cellular homeostatic processes. ROS then stimulated the TGF-β1 (at the time, the TGF-β1 was dormant) into activating. This then gave the stem cells the signal to start to differentiate into dentin. The researchers also observed that the reaction changed depending on level of light received.

The power of low-level light therapy has been anecdotally known for nearly fifty years. However, this study was the first to identify the molecular mechanism. This could open up any number of potential treatment avenues, going far beyond dentin.  The team’s future research will include experiments with other stem cells. They also hope to soon start human trials for restorative dentistry. In our lifetimes, we might see this technology become not only available but common. This goes beyond teeth implants, as science fiction starts to turn into science fact.

By Morgan White

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