Dr. George Huang of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center is attempting to develop a revolutionary new root canal treatment that would actually regrow infected and lost pulp tissue in the roots of diseased teeth.
Dr. George Huang of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center has been awarded a $1.8 million grant to continue research into developing a root canal treatment.
(Photo Courtesy of UTHSC)
The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research recently awarded Huang $1.8 million in funding, extending a grant he originally received in 2008.
As many as 60 million root canal procedures are performed worldwide every year. Huang specializes in endotontics, which focuses on treatments and prevention of diseases in the root canal system.
“In early 2000 was the time that the tissue engineering concept started to emerge, as well as the understanding of stem cells,” Huang said. “As a clinician and as a dentist, I thought perhaps the combination of these two types of research might be able to help dentistry.”
The traditional root canal procedure involves removing decayed root tissue, or dental pulp, from the tooth’s canal and filling that space with gutta percha, an artificial rubber-like substance. With Huang’s new approach, the canals that have been cleared would be injected with stem cell tissue to stimulate healthy tissue growth, essentially rebuilding the tooth, and eliminating the need for gutta percha.
“There had not been any success in trying to restore this infected tissue through a regeneration process, so I started looking into the issue and I realized there was a possibility to further advance this line of research,” said Huang, who explained that the possibility of regeneration was proved in the 1990s when researchers discovered that stem cells existed in the dental pulp and could be isolated, categorized and possibly utilized.
The patient’s stem cells would first be isolated, grown in a laboratory setting and then inserted
back into the patient’s mouth. Within a two-month period, the root will regenerate.
It’s important to note that Huang’s treatment targets root disease in the early stages and is not a “whole-tooth” regeneration method, which is a different process entirely. So far, scientists in Japan have shown that they can completely regenerate teeth in small animals like mice.
“Our group has been able to demonstrate that we can isolate stem cells from the pulp tissue, let them expand or grow in culture dishes, seed them onto artificial or natural scaffolding materials, and then insert them into the canal space. Using a small animal model, we were able to demonstrate that we can entirely regenerate pulp tissue in the empty canal space,” Huang said.
Another function of the pulp tissue is to generate dentyne.
“The dentyne can also be regenerated,” Huang said. “The natural function of the pulp tissue is to maintain the homeostasis of the tooth and lay down the dentyne structure to sustain the architecture of the tooth.”
Similar research in other countries has been successful.
Testing has now moved to larger animals, including pigs and dogs, and clinical trials on humans could begin in the next 10 years.
Huang’s research also examines harvesting stem cells from a person other than the patient. He envisions potential for a stem cell bank in the future.
A breakthrough in root canal procedure would be good news for a growing number of people opposed to the current root canal treatment because extremely toxic anaerobic bacteria have been found and identified in and around some root canals.
The nonprofit Toxic Element Research Foundation has found that root canals are common in people with heart disease, multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Lupus, leukemia, diabetes, arthritis and other autoimmune diseases. Reversal of some of these diseases, including improvements in physical conditions as well as positive changes in blood chemistries, have taken place after the removal of the dental toxins such as mercury, nickel, aluminum, root canals and cavitations.