Root canals can save teeth that have become infected or decayed, though these teeth may become brittle and susceptible to fracture later. Now, researchers at the Oregon Health & Science University School of Dentistry in Portland are engineering new blood vessels in teeth for better long-term outcomes.
More than 15 million root canals are performed each year in the United States, according to the American Association of Endodontists, with more than 41,000 performed each day. The current procedure removes infected dental tissues and replaces them with synthetic biomaterials covered by a protective crown.
“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,” said principal investigator Luiz Bertassoni, DDS, PhD.
Based on their previous work fabricating artificial capillaries, the researchers used a 3-D printing-inspired process to create blood vessels in the lab. They placed a fiber mold made of sugar molecules across the root canal of extracted human teeth and injected a gel-like material, similar to proteins found in the body, filled with dental pulp cells.
Next, the researchers removed the fiber to make a long microchannel in the root canal and inserted endothelial cells isolated from the interior lining of blood vessels. After a week, dentin-producing cells proliferated near the tooth walls, and artificial blood vessels formed inside of the tooth.
“This result proves that fabrication of artificial blood vessels can be a highly effective strategy for fully regenerating the function of teeth,” said Bertassoni. “We believe that this finding may change the way that root canal treatments are done in the future.”
The study, “A Novel Strategy to Engineer Pre-Vascularized Full-Length Dental Pulp-Like Tissue Constructs,” was published by Scientific Reports.