A Brave New World
As a “seasoned” dental hygienist, it’s fun to look back on the advances that have been made during my professional career.
As a “seasoned” dental hygienist, it’s fun to look back on the advances that have been made during my professional career. I actually remember when the concept of evidence-based care was big news and the use of power toothbrushes was considered dangerous. It may be difficult to believe, but, not that long ago, dental professionals did not don personal protective equipment (PPE) when treating patients—no gloves, no masks, no eye protection. Some changes occur quickly, while others take years. For instance, PPE guidelines were adopted readily by dental hygienists, but integrating evidence-based care continues to evolve among oral health professionals. Other advances in oral health may occur beyond my lifetime, such as tooth regeneration.
I recently read about a new therapy that can actually help tooth structures regrow. Researchers at Kings College in London are using stem cells to regenerate dentin.1 While stem cell research in tooth structure is not new, this therapy is different because it stimulates stem cells present within the tooth structure, as opposed to implanting stem cells from another source. The researchers have discovered that certain groups of molecules called glycogen synthase kinase (GSK-3) inhibitors power up the stem cells within a tooth to produce dentin. While a small amount of dentin production does occur in the face of injury, such as cavitation, using GSK-3 inhibitors is like adding a power booster. Interesting to note, one of these GSK-3 inhibitors (Tideglusib) was originally developed to treat Alzheimer’s disease.
Implanting small sponges impregnated with a GSK-3 inhibitor into the pulp caused most of the damaged dentin to rebuild. These studies, however, were not conducted on humans—though that could be the next step.
As I read this research, I couldn’t help but focus on February as National Children’s Dental Health Month. Dental caries is still one of the most common chronic diseases in children.2 While no treatment will ever replace prevention, a therapy may one day be able to regenerate lost tooth structures. Just imagine a simple procedure that can energize a diseased tooth to return to its healthy state. For our youngest patients, this could be life changing—helping them avoid pain, embarrassment, and costly procedures. It truly is a brave new world. Future patients, including children, will benefit. And our future dental hygiene colleagues will be part of it.
- Neves V, Babb R, Chandrasekaran D, Sharpe P. Promotion of natural tooth repair by small molecule GSK3 antagonists. Scientific Reports 7. 2017:39654.
- Dye B, Thornton-Evans G, Xianfen L, Iafolla T. Dental caries and sealant prevalence in children and adolescents in the United States, 2011-2012. NCHS Data Brief No 191. Available at: cdc.gov/nchs/products/ databriefs/db191.htm. Accessed January 17, 2017.
From Dimensions of Dental Hygiene. February 2017;15(2):10.