New research indicates that a nano-sized dental film could soon enable dentists to improve root canal procedures and bring diseased teeth back to life, rather than leaving a "non-vital" tooth in the mouth.
Nadia Benkirane-Jessel and colleagues note that root canal procedures help prevent tooth loss in millions of people each year.
During the procedure, a dentist removes the painful, inflamed pulp, the soft tissue inside the diseased or injured tooth that contains nerves and blood vessels.
Regenerative endodontics, the development and delivery of tissues to replace diseased or damaged dental pulp, has the potential to provide a revolutionary alternative to pulp removal.
In a report in the monthly journal ACS Nano, the scientists describe the development of a multilayered, nano-sized film - only 1/50,000th the thickness of a human hair - containing a substance that could help regenerate dental pulp.
Previous studies show that the substance, called alpha melanocyte stimulating hormone, or alpha-MSH, has anti-inflammatory properties.
The researchers showed in laboratory tests alpha-MSH combined with a widely-used polymer produced a material that fights inflammation in dental pulp fibroblasts.
Fibroblasts are the main type of cell found in dental pulp.
Nano-films containing alpha-MSH also increased the number of these cells.
This could help revitalize damaged teeth and reduce the need for a root canal procedure, the scientists suggest.