For many, the thought of a trip to the dentist conjures horrific memories of getting fillings as a kid.
But such archaic practices could soon be banished to the history books, if a new study delivers on its promise.
Researchers at King’s College London have found that a drug designed to treat Alzheimer’s can also stimulate tooth regrowth and repair cavities.
So far the drug, known as Tideglusib, has only been tested for this purpose in mice, but the scientists are confident the results will be replicated in humans.
And critically, they already know it’s safe, thanks to clinical trials in patients with Alzheimer’s, so it could be rolled out quickly.
So how does it work?
Thanks to stem cells, teeth are already able to make minor repairs when the inner pulp is exposed. But the regenerative process only creates a very thin layer of dentine, the material just beneath the enamel.
In the case of decay, this thin layer isn’t enough to properly protect the tooth, which is why dentists fit fillings and man-made cements.
But in the tests, Tideglusib was proved to stimulate the stem cells to generate enough new dentine to help the tooth make a full recovery.
The scientists delivered the drug using tiny biodegradable sponges, which degraded over time and were replaced by dentine.
“The simplicity of our approach makes it ideal as a clinical dental product for the natural treatment of large cavities, by providing both pulp protection and restoring dentine,” said the study’s lead author Professor Paul Sharpe from King’s.
While fillings can become infected and often need replacing, teeth regenerated using Tideglusib should be as good as new.
Sharpe added: “Using a drug that has already been tested in clinical trials for Alzheimer’s disease provides a real opportunity to get this dental treatment quickly into clinics.”