While traditional dental techniques and scrupulous dental hygiene can help stave off tooth decay and gum infections, things can happen to trump all your efforts to keep a healthy set of teeth. Injuries, cancer surgery, and advanced periodontal disease can all cause you to lose vital bone and connective tissues—which in turn results in lost teeth. If you're already in that boat or have a sinking feeling that you soon might be, take heart. A new frontier known as regenerative therapy may be able to help you regrow your own tissues and regain a healthy smile.
Stem Cells: The Body's Blank Slates
Regenerative therapy revolves around the use of stem cells to restore and rebuild the body's damaged or injured tissues. These cells are undifferentiated or "blank slate" cells, meaning that they haven't yet been transformed into specialized cells such as heart, liver, or brain cells. When stem cells come into contact with specialized cells, those specialized cells modify them into that particular type of cell. This process allows embryos to develop various organs—but embryos aren't the only place you'll find stem cells. Your own body contains a vast store of adult stem cells, and these cells can be extracted and directed to become specialized cells for rebuilding all kinds of tissues—including teeth, bone, and gum tissue.
Some of the restorative techniques dentists currently use to save your teeth from extraction may be enhanced or even replaced by regenerative therapy as researchers learn more about its potential. For instance, root canal therapy can rescue an infected tooth, but the dentist has to drill through the dentin and remove the pulp within. This leaves a weakened shell that must be filled with artificial material and then capped. Someday, however, you may be able to regrow your own pulp, dentin, and even enamel through the skillful insertion of dental pulp stem cells, or DPSCs. Regeneration of enamel might also make fillings a thing of the past and even allow for the regeneration of entire new teeth.
Recreating Gum Tissue
Regenerative therapy could hold the key to recreating a natural, healthy socket of connective tissue in cases of periodontal disease. You might be surprised to learn that each tooth is articulated by a type of joint called a gomphosis—in other words, it's connected to the jawbone by tissues that allow it to move slightly in response to pressure. Periodontal disease can destroy the ligaments and surrounding gum tissue that hold a tooth in place. But someday your dentist may be able to reverse this process by introducing stem cells that rebuild lost gum tissue and connective tissue. The fact that the natural, flexible tooth socket can be recreated may make natural tooth implantation a better option than artificial implants, which can transfer more stress to the jawbone because of their inability to flex.
Regenerating teeth and gum tissue is all very well, but what if you don't have sufficient jawbone to hold those teeth? This is a fact of life for many individuals who either suffer from lost bone density (usually due to living for years with missing teeth), traumatic injury, or surgical removal. But even if you're dealing with these issues, you may find that stem cells can provide astonishing answers.
Traditionally, dental patients who lack sufficient bone density to hold artificial implants have needed bone grafts—but you could avoid this step entirely by regrowing your own bone, with the aid of stem cells applied to the areas in need of help. Even more amazingly, regenerative therapy can actually replace entire sections of missing jawbone. One effort has already succeeded in restoring up to 80 percent of a missing chunk of jawbone in a patient who had suffered a severe facial injury, enabling her to receive dental implants in that part of her mouth.
Talk to your dentist or endodontist about the exiting new possibilities of regenerative therapy. These new techniques and technologies may be ready and waiting for you sooner than you think! For questions about this, contact a representative from an establishment like Renovo Endodontic Studio.