Imagine a world without root canals. It's possible with what the UK's Royal Society of Chemistry calls "a new paradigm for dental treatments." Scientists at Nottingham and Harvard universities say they've developed dental fillings that stimulate stem cells to regrow and heal damaged teeth. Researcher Adam Celiz explains that existing dental fillings—typically made of calcium hydroxide or mineral trioxide aggregate, per Science Alert—are meant to protect pulp tissue in the middle of a tooth containing blood vessels and nerves, but "are toxic to cells," per Newsweek. About 10% to 15% of these fillings fail, resulting in root canals which weaken teeth further. The latest fillings made from synthetic biomaterial, however, "can be placed in direct contact with pulp tissue to stimulate the native stem cell population."
Scientists say the stem cells encourage the growth of pulp tissue and dentin—the hard material that forms the majority of a tooth. "In in vitro testing, the fillings stimulated the proliferation and differentiation of stem cells into dentin," reports Popular Science. "The researchers believe that if used in a damaged tooth, those stem cells can repair the kind of damage that often comes from the installation of a filling. In essence, the biomaterial filling would allow the tooth to heal itself." Patients won't need to endure any more suffering than usual, either. The biomaterial is injected into a tooth and hardened with UV light just like a normal filling. There's no word on when the new fillings—which won second place at the RSC's Emerging Technologies Competition, per a release—will be available for patients. (Never floss? You're not alone.)