A group of French scientists within the field of nanotechnology recently made big headlines all over the world, when they published a study about a nanotechnology gel that could regenerate teeth. The research was by several media outlets interpreted to mean that dental fillings would soon be made obsolete by this new breakthrough in nanotechnology. It was reported that the gel could just be added to the cavity of the tooth and that the tooth would then repair itself without ever needing a filling. Is this true? Is nanotechnology really this close to replacing dental fillings as the primary treatment of tooth cavities?
The fact of the matter in this case is that nanotechnology is not about to replace dental fillings. The research was about how to regenerate the pulp inside the tooth and not the crown itself. The pulp of the tooth consists of nerves and blood vessels. It is a live tissue in contrast to the tooth enamel which consists of approximately 96% inorganic material. Sometimes the dental pulp becomes infected due to deep cavities or trauma. When the dental pulp becomes infected it will start to die and so far the only treatment of this condition has been to remove the dental pulp and replace it with a soft material called gutta-percha. After such a root canal treatment the tooth will be dead and is now weaker than before. It will often be necessary to protect the now more fragile tooth with a dental crown to prevent it from breaking or cracking.
What the French nanotechnology researchers might have discovered is a way to regenerate the dying pulp so that the tooth won’t have to die. By using a multilayered, nano-sized film — only 1/50,000th the thickness of a human hair containing a substance called alpha melanocyte stimulating hormone, or alpha-MSH the nanotechnology scientists have proved that they can fight inflammation and increase the number of dental pulp fibroblasts. Fibroblasts are the cells inside the dental pulp that regenerate the pulp fibres and are the main type of cell found in dental pulp.
Hopefully this new breakthrough within nanotechonology – which has so far only been tested on laboratory rats – will in time reduce the need for root canal therapy.