How to Regrow Teeth…Using Light
- Posted on: Jun 9 2014
Cut off the tail of a gecko and it grows back. Same goes for a salamander. A sea star too can lose a limb and then regrow it. In biology, this is called regeneration. It has been extensively studied in animals like those just named. It’s also been studied in human biology. In our bodies regeneration is more limited, yet still occurs nonetheless. Studies have shown that fingers have some ability to regenerate after they’ve been lost. Internally, the liver is notable for its regenerative properties. However, there’s still much that we do not know.
Recently, scientists have successfully caused a broken tooth to regrow. Before you get too excited, this experiment was carried out on a rodent, not a human mouth. Still, the implications of the study could be enormous for humans if scientists figure out how to apply their technology to human biology. Scientists shined light from a low-powered laser—equivalent to about the brightness of a sunlit day—on a rodent’s broken tooth. Using the light, researchers were able to initiate a natural healing program and regrow dentin, the material inside a tooth. The only thing crazier than the notion of a self-healing tooth is the way this study worked.
Shine a Light
Dentist and pathologist Praveen Arany co-authored the published study. He became intrigued with the potential use of light for regrowth from stories he’d heard, such as light’s purported ability to repair wounds and regrow hair. To some other person, such stories sound ridiculous. For Arany, this sounded like promise. He spent a number of years calibrating light levels to find the best dose for bringing about this healing ability.
Arany found that at the right level, light seems to trigger a chemical reaction that releases reactive oxygen species. These molecules can cause serious damage to cell structure. In direct response to this threat, the body activates a protein called Transforming Growth Factor (or TGF)-beta. This protein plays significant roles in embryonic development, wound healing and the immune system. It is the TGF-beta that stimulates production of new dentin, the material at the center of the tooth. Arany and senior author David Mooney demonstrated with their experiment that they can trigger this cascade of events, thus producing dentin by shining a low-powered laser on a rodent’s tooth.
There’s a great deal of promise here. But there are still a number of limitations. For one, as already mentioned, this has not been attempted on humans. Scientists hope to within the year. Secondly, scientists can not yet stimulate an entire tooth to regrow. Mooney reported in the study that the new dentin lacked the structure of a tooth. Despite this, Arany, now with the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, is hopeful of finding a way to get the body to rebuild structures, too. Imagine the ability to regrow teeth, lungs, limbs and maybe even the heart.
Dr. Hugh Flax has a passion for practicing dentistry. He takes great pleasure in changing patients’ lives through their smiles. He received his degree in dentistry at Emory University and began Flax Dental in 1987. Outside the office, Dr. Flax loves music, New Orleans, traveling and more music. Follow Great Smile Dental on Twitter and Facebook.
Posted in: Dentistry