If you are in your twenties, it's fair to expect that your children will never undergo any dental procedure that was in common use throughout your life to date. Your grandchildren won't even know what a root canal surgery or filling is unless you tell them. Regenerative medicine and tissue engineering will transform the field of dentistry profoundly over the next two decades, and what little of the old that's left after that will be mopped up by biotechnologies that destroy the ability of harmful bacteria to thrive in your mouth. There will be no cavities or periodontitis, and where accidents cause damage, the teeth, bone, gum tissue, and related structures such as the ligaments that attach teeth to the jaw will be replaced anew with tissue grown from the patient's own cells.
Here's a position paper that is a good example of the sort of vision presently held by dental researchers:
Root canal therapy has been the predominant approach in endodontic treatment, wherein the entire pulp is cleaned out and replaced with a gutta-percha filling. However, living pulp is critical for the maintenance of tooth homeostasis and essential for tooth longevity. An ideal form of therapy, therefore, might consist of regenerative approaches in which diseased/necrotic pulp tissues are removed and replaced with regenerated pulp tissues to revitalize the teeth.
Dental pulp regeneration presents one of the most challenging issues in regenerative dentistry due to the poor intrinsic ability of pulp tissues for self-healing and regrowth. With the advent of modern tissue engineering and the discovery of dental stem cells, biological therapies have paved the way to utilize stem cells, delivered or internally recruited, to generate dental pulp tissues, where growth factors and a series of dentine extracellular matrix molecules are key mediators that regulate the complex cascade of regeneration events to be faithfully fulfilled.
Moving away from the current state of the art artificial replacements for teeth and parts of your teeth is just a starting point, however. You might look back into the Fight Aging! articles for more on the technology-in-waiting that will transform dentistry - regrowing every part of the tooth and jaw tissues, and eliminating a large part of the mechanisms that cause damage in the first place:
- Towards Dental Regeneration
- Dental Regenerative Medicine Progresses
- Manipulating Regeneration in Dentistry
- Growing Replacement Enamel
- Progress in Dental Tissue Engineering
- Another Step Forward for Tooth Regeneration
- Tissue Engineering to Reattach Teeth
- The Possibility of Eliminating Tooth Decay
Dentistry is one of the fields of medicine in which the near future is especially rosy, and progress towards the envisaged biotechnologies is rapid.