Root canals are one of the most feared procedures a dental patient can undergo, but the root canals of today are a far cry from the painful procedures they used to be. Today’s root canals are quicker, less painful and have a higher success rate than procedures performed decades ago. In fact, many of today’s root canal procedures are about as simple and painless as getting a regular filling. Unfortunately, despite their reduced pain and higher success rate, there are still failed procedures - but a team from the UCLA School of Dentistry and UCLA’s Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science have teamed up to try to improve the success rate of the root canal using particles known as nanodiamonds.
So, what exactly are these nanodiamonds, and how can they improve the outcome of your next root canal?
"Nanodiamonds are just as they sound - very tiny diamonds," says Dr. Martin Abelar, a dentist in San Diego, California. "Except unlike the diamonds we see on engagement rings, nanodiamonds are much more affordable, and they’re so small you can fit millions of them on a pinhead."
Much like their larger counterparts, nanodiamonds possess the same hardness and durability that make diamonds so timeless, and the researchers at UCLA want to use that durability to strengthen the gutta-percha material currently used to replace dental pulp in root canal procedures.
"Gutta-percha is used to help block bacteria from entering the newly cleaned tooth, but it has been known to develop air pockets in the hardening process, which allow just enough room for bacteria to re-infect the tooth," Abelar says.
The nanodiamond particles would help prevent this.
"The scientists found that when you add nanodiamonds to gutta-percha, they strengthen the gutta-percha and make it more resistant to buckling and bacterial breech," Abelar says. "And the best part is, adding nanodiamonds won’t change anything about the traditional root canal procedure, so there’s no need for your dentist to undergo extensive retraining to use it."
Though nanodiamond-enhanced gutta-percha is not yet available for patient use, it is undergoing clinical trials at UCLA and may soon be available at a dentist’s office near you. Clinical trials on three patients have so far had a 100 percent success rate.
"Nanodiamonds will be an inexpensive way to enhance the durability and success of standard root canal procedures, and may even be used in everything from cancer treatments to antimicrobial products," Abelar says. "The possible benefits are really endless."