Technology to regrow teeth--the first time scientists have been able to reform human dental tissue.
Using low-intensity pulsed ultrasound (LIPUS), Dr. Tarak El-Bialy from the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry and Dr. Jie Chen and Dr. Ying Tsui from the Faculty of Engineering have created a miniaturized system-on-a-chip that offers a non-invasive and novel way to stimulate jaw growth and dental tissue healing.
"It's very exciting because we have shown the results and actually have something you can touch and feel that will impact the health of people in Canada and throughout the world," said Chen, who works out of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the National Institute for Nanotechnology.
The wireless design of the ultrasound transducer means the miniscule device will be able to fit comfortably inside a patient's mouth while packed in biocompatible materials. The unit will be easily mounted on an orthodontic or "braces" bracket or even a plastic removable crown. The team also designed an energy sensor that will ensure the LIPUS power is reaching the target area of the teeth roots within the bone. TEC Edmonton, the U of A's exclusive tech transfer service provider, filed the first patent recently in the U.S. Currently, the research team is finishing the system-on-a-chip and hopes to complete the miniaturized device by next year.
"If the root is broken, it can now be fixed," said El-Bialy. "And because we can regrow the teeth root, a patient could have his own tooth rather than foreign objects in his mouth."
The device is aimed at those experiencing dental root resorption, a common effect of mechanical or chemical injury to dental tissue caused by diseases and endocrine disturbances. Mechanical injury from wearing orthodontic braces causes progressive root resorption, limiting the duration that braces can be worn. This new device will work to counteract the destructive resorptive process while allowing for the continued wearing of corrective braces. With approximately five million people in North America presently wearing orthodontic braces, the market size for the device would be 1.4 million users.
This would allow more rapid realignment of teeth for those undergoing orthodontic therapy.
El-Bialy had previously demonstrated this effect using a larger ultrasound generator. He teamed up with other faculty and developed a wearable device so that the benefit could be had more easily. His previous research showed that the ultrasound also helped cause damaged bones to repair.
El-Bialy has shown in earlier research that ultrasound waves, the high frequency sound waves normally used for diagnostic imaging, help bones heal and tooth material grow.
"I was using ultrasound to stimulate bone formation after lower-jaw lengthening in rabbits," El-Bialy said in an interview Tuesday.
To his surprise, not only did he help heal the rabbits' jaws after the surgery, but their teeth started to grow as well. He foresees the day when people with broken bones will wear ultrasound emittters wrapped into the bandages.
This approach by itself probably can't solve the problem of growing replacements for entirely missing teeth. However, ultrasound might help stimulate tooth building cells once scientists develop techniques for creating suitable cells. Still, additional problems must be solved to get tooth building cells to produce the particular tooth shape desired.
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