More than 15 million root canals are conducted every year in the United States, but that number could soon start to drop. Dental researchers at the Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) in Portland, Oregon have developed a new method of engineering artificial blood vessels in teeth, as explained in a new study that could potentially revolutionize the dental industry.
Published in the journal Scientific Reports this month, the groundbreaking OHSU technique could provide an effective alternative to root canals by using a 3D printing-inspired approach. A common yet painful dental procedure, the much-dreaded root canal is effective for saving a tooth that has become decayed or infected. The time-honored process revolves around removing the affected dental tissues and replacing them with synthetic biomaterials encased in a protective crown.
But as OHSU researchers are noting, this pervasive method is not without its negative consequences. Root canal procedures may result in patients’ teeth becoming brittle and more susceptible to breakage over time.
“This process eliminates the tooth’s blood and nerve supply, rendering it lifeless and void of any biological response or defense mechanism. Without this functionality, adult teeth may be lost much sooner, which can result in much greater concerns, such as the need for dentures or dental implants,” explains principal investigator Luiz Bertassoni, D.D.S., Ph.D., assistant professor of restorative dentistry and biomedical engineering at the OHSU.
A root canal procedure
In response to this issue, Bertassoni and his colleagues devised a 3D printing-inspired technique derived from their earlier work fabricating artificial capillaries. With a new goal of producing blood vessels in the lab, the OHSU team placed a fiber mold made of sugar molecules and filled with dental pulp cells across the root canal of an extracted human tooth. The mold was then injected with a gel-like material that is reminiscent of proteins found in the body.
After removing the fiber to create a long microchannel in the root canal, researchers inserted endothelial cells extracted from the inner lining of blood vessels. Seven days later, cells producing dentin were proliferating near the walls of the tooth, and artificial blood vessels had formed.
Bertassoni says the findings prove that fabricating artificial blood vessels can be an extremely effective technique in fully regenerating the function of teeth. “We believe that this finding may change the way that root canal treatments are done in the future.”