A research, the first of its kind, conducted at Queen’s University has discovered that aspirin stimulates stem cells in teeth, enhancing tooth regeneration.
Tooth decay is the most common dental disease. It results in inflammation of the tooth nerve, which causes the toothache which most people are familiar with.
Aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) is a drug that has been used for many years as a painkiller. It has an anti-inflammatory action, and is used to relieve headache, menstrual pain and muscle aches. It is very inexpensive as well.
Tooth decay usually occurs as a consequence of plaque build-up. The bacteria which breed in the plaque produce acids while breaking down sugar and carbohydrates, and this acid weakens the enamel of the teeth. Teeth naturally have limited regenerative abilities. They can produce a thin band of dentine – the layer just below the enamel – if the inner dental pulp becomes exposed. However teeth cannot self-repair large cavities.
Presently the treatment available for tooth decay involves fillings. Fillings may need to be replaced many times during a tooth’s lifetime as regular wear and tear chips away at it inside the mouth.
Prof Ikhlas El Karim is a senior lecturer in the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences at Queen’s University Belfast. Her research is focused on the dental stem cells found in teeth and its purpose was to explore how dentists could improve their capability to regenerate and repair damaged teeth. Such a treatment method could essentially negate the need for fillings.
The research findings demonstrate that aspirin can enhance the function of those stem cells, thus helping self-repair by regenerating lost tooth structure. The fact that aspirin is already a licensed drug should help the development of the treatment, the researchers say.
“The next step is to go and try to figure out how you are going to apply the aspirin to the teeth, to regenerate the dentine and to replace the need for fillings.” said researchers.
Applying the aspirin to teeth will not involve simply putting it on an infected tooth however.
“You need to put it [on the tooth] in a way that it can be easily released over a long period of time, if you put an aspirin now on a cavity, it’s going to be washed away,” Dr El Karim said.
“We are not encouraging that, there is a scientific way to go about this, so that we produce a final product that can be used by a dentist, not by a patient.
Fillings may need to be replaced many times during the lifetime of the tooth. “The next step is to work with our pharmacy colleagues to try to develop a vehicle to put it in to the teeth, after that clinical trials.”
“It will probably be in the near future that it could be tried in a clinical trial with patients,” she said. “There is huge potential to change our approach to one of the biggest dental challenges we face. This novel approach could not only increase the long-term survival of teeth, but could also result in huge savings for the NHS and other healthcare systems worldwide.”