Dental fillings may soon be left in the ash heap of history, thanks to a recent discovery about a drug called Tideglusib.
Developed for and trialled to treat Alzheimer's disease, last year scientists found the drug also happens to promote the natural tooth regrowth mechanism in mice, allowing the tooth to repair cavities.
Tideglusib works by stimulating stem cells in the pulp of teeth, the source of new dentine. Dentine is the mineralised substance beneath tooth enamel that gets eaten away by tooth decay.
Teeth can naturally regenerate dentine without assistance, but only under certain circumstances. The pulp must be exposed through infection (such as decay) or trauma to prompt the manufacture of dentine.
But even then, the tooth can only regrow a very thin layer naturally - not enough to repair cavities caused by decay, which are generally deep. Tideglusib changes this outcome because it turns off the GSK-3 enzyme, which stops dentine from forming.
In the 2017 research, the team inserted small, biodegradable sponges made of collagen soaked in Tideglusib into cavities. The sponges triggered dentine growth and within six weeks, the damage was repaired.
The collagen structure of the sponges melted away, leaving only the intact tooth.
Thus far, the procedure has only been used in mouse teeth.
Yet as King's College London Dental Institute Professor and lead author Paul Sharpe told The Telegraph at the time, "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."
He added, "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."