While the news is filled with the prospect of using stem cells
to grow new organs for people whose original organs have failed, a new development promises relief for people with a far too common condition: missing teeth. Whether due to age, bad diet, an accident, or else some kind of ailment, many people lose their original adult teeth. A team of scientists in Canada have developed a new way to literally regrow teeth, thus fixing one’s smile without recourse to dentures or the implanting of a crown, bridge, or other dental prosthesis.
The patent for the device, which uses low intensity pulsed ultra sound to stimulate the growth of teeth from the root, was filed recently by the researchers at the University of Alberta and Edmonton. The ultra sound device is wireless and about the size of a pea. It is inserted in the mouth and activated for twenty minutes each day for four months to stimulate tooth growth.
The ultra sound device is designed to fit comfortably inside a patient’s mouth while packed in biocompatible materials. The unit will be easily mounted on an orthodontic or something similar to braces or even a plastic removable crown. The research team has also developed a sensor that will monitor the operation of the device and make sure that it is reaching the teeth roots in the bone that need stimulation.
The research team that produced this new ultra sound device included Jie Chien, an engineering professor and expert in nano-circuit design and Tarek El-Bialy of the University of Alberta’s dentistry faculty. Ying Tsui, another engineering professor, participated in the project.
El Bialy first tested a much larger version of the ultra sound device on rabbits in the 1990s. Then he conducted human trials with remarkable results. The ultra sound device stimulated the growth of teeth in virtually every patient.
The ultra sound device has been demonstrated to also successfully treat hemifacial microsomia, a congenital syndrome where one side of the child’s jaw or face is underdeveloped compared to the other, normal, side. Ordinarily this condition requires several extensive surgeries to correct.
Subsequent to these trials, the research team developed the much smaller version of the ultra sound device for which the patent is now pending. The larger device would have required the patient to hold it physically in his or her mouth for twenty minutes at a time for months, obviously a challenging task. The smaller device can just be inserted and left alone.
It is hoped that eventually the ultra sound device can stimulate the regrowth of bones in other parts of the body. This may help repair bone injuries or even increase the length of bones, allowing short people to grow a little taller.
The research team expects that a commercial version of their ultra sound device will be available in two years. The larger version of the ultra sound device has already received regulatory approval in both Canada and the United States.