A root canal can be challenging under the best of circumstances, for the patient and the dentist.

While the patient may be happily oblivious to the experience thanks to the miracle of modern-day anesthetics, the endodontist faces twin challenges while rooting around in your mouth: thoroughly and quickly cleaning and disinfecting the area being treated, and promoting rapid healing.

Kimberly Morio
A new instrument being developed at the University of Iowa College of Dentistry and Dental Clinics, with the help and support of the UI Research Foundation (UIRF), does both simultaneously.

The device (based on pending patent award and peer-reviewed publications) uses light to clean and stimulate the regeneration of healthy tissue in inflamed or infected canal spaces of the mouth.

It’s not exactly a magic wand for dental treatment, but it’s close.

Our research shows significant and positive results in 30 seconds or less – both increased disinfection and initiation of regenerative conditions for cells, which can lead to fast healing and improved prognosis,” said adjunct faculty member Kimberly Morio, who started the project.

Using four years of research-supported data, Morio, Kim Brogden, professor in the Department of Periodontics and director of the Iowa Institute for Oral Health Research, Softronics Ltd. Founder and President Bob Sternowski, and others have developed three functioning prototypes for the yet-to-be-named device.

“The beauty of this tool is that it will be simple to use and effective by general dentists and endodontists,” Morio said. “The potential market for this is enormous.”

A 2017 survey by the American Association of Endodontists estimates that 22.3 million endodontic procedures are performed annually, including 15.1 million root canal treatments.

Currently, treatment of infected or inflamed endodontic tissues requires chemo-mechanical debridement of the canal spaces and proper sealing of the coronal and apical canal openings (Read: sharp, pointy, spinning things, plus antibiotics).

The problem is that these methods aren’t 100 percent effective, which may lead to lingering pain and an infection that could require a root canal do-over. This is inconvenient, expensive, and potentially dangerous to the patient if left untreated.

The team’s first publication about the device, a proof of concept paper, was published in the June 2019 edition of the Journal of Endodontics. Titled “255-nm Light-emitting Diode Kills Enterococcus faecalis and Induces the Production of Cellular Biomarkers in Human Embryonic Palatal Mesenchyme Cells and Gingival Fibroblasts,” the paper describes the result of tests using both 255-nanometer (nm) and 405-nm light-emitting diode (LED) treatment.

Kim Brogden
Brogden credits Morio’s vision and enthusiasm for getting the project off the ground. He said the team’s also grateful for the support of the UIRF, which has supported its efforts by providing intellectual property enhancement funds.  On the commercialization side, meanwhile, UIRF is looking for a partner to help bring this technology to market. 

Pun intended, Brogden said this new tool can help “light the way” to less expensive, less invasive, and more effective endodontic treatments.

“It’s time for advancement and development in our field,” he said. “It’s not about the root canal, it’s about the people affected by inflamed and infected root canals. Sterile canals that lead to increased healing, decreased antibiotic use, and, ultimately, a better prognosis for our patients.”

The UI Research Foundation is part of the University of Iowa Office of the Vice President for Research, which provides researchers and scholars with resources, guidance, and inspiration to secure funding, collaborate, innovate, and forge frontiers of discovery that benefit everyone. More at http://research.uiowa.edu, and on Twitter: @DaretoDiscover

Photos (teaser photo from OVPR homepage): In this University of Iowa file photo from 2018 used for illustrative purposes by Tim Schoon, Madeline Stead, then a fourth-year dental student in the UI College of Dentistry, provides dental work on veteran Kenny Williams as part of a national program to give veterans their smiles back; (this page, from top): Kimberly Morio, adjunct faculty member in the UI College of Dentistry; Kim Brogden, professor in the Department of Periodontics and director of the Iowa Institute for Oral Health Research.