The prospect of a root canal induces dread in almost anyone. More than 41,000 people undergo the notoriously painful procedure each day. But what if there was a treatment that used the body’s own cells to reverse decay and prevent the need for a root canal altogether?
In a study published recently in Frontiers in Immunology, researchers from the Forsyth Institute and Okayama University describe a promising new approach, tested in a rat model, that could replace the need for root canals.
Root canals are performed when a patient’s tooth decay spreads to the core of the tooth. At the center of each tooth is a layer of connective tissue and cells, known as pulp. During a root canal, a dental specialist will penetrate the infected tooth, scrape out the infected pulp, and replace it with rubber-like material.
The problem is that undergoing a root canal can dry out the affected tooth, leading to greater risk for tooth fractures.
“One of the elusive solutions that people chase is how to regenerate the pulp,” said Dr. Thomas E. Van Dyke, Senior Member of Staff at Forsyth and co-author on the recent study. He and his colleagues found that a type of molecule the body produces naturally, called a resolvin, helped achieve pulp regeneration.
For the study, researchers added the resolvin molecule to the infected pulp of teeth in one group of rats. They saw a decline in the number of bacteria in the pulp chamber of those teeth, and they noticed that swelling went down and the pulp began regenerating. By all indications, the resolvin was causing the tooth and surrounding bone to heal.
The control group received no resolvin. As a result, pus formed at the root of the tooth, bacteria flourished, infection persisted, and no pulp regeneration occurred.
“The data indicates that this class of resolvins offers a promising approach for treating teeth that are infected, allowing us to save the pulp and maintain the vitality of the tooth,” Van Dyke said.
More research is needed to understand how the treatment would work in humans. But the study is an encouraging step forward in the quest to prevent root canals—especially for the 51 million people who undergo the procedure each year.