The lasers, which awaken stem cells in the body, have been able to reform dentin, the hard structure that makes up teeth, in mice.
On a larger scale and with further studying, lasers may enter the dental workforce as a form of restorative dentistry, allowing patients who once thought they had permanently eroded dentin another chance at a perfect smile. The trial was unable to regenerate hard enamel on teeth, which protects the tooth from the general day-to-day abuse.
This technology could also aid in root canal procedures.
"The laser tool and the mechanism we have outlined would ideally be used in pulp capping that would prevent root canal treatment and hopefully preserve the tooth without the need for it to be eventually extracted," Dr. Praveen Arany said. "But once you reach the pulp and the pulp is necrotic, the cells you have to work with are no longer there so this would not work in those cases."
The researchers note that in the future this discovery could also assist in tissue regeneration and broken bone repair.
The laser repair "does not introduce anything new to the body, and lasers are routinely used in medicine and dentistry, so the barriers to clinical translation are low," David Mooney, a faculty member at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University and 1 of the study leaders said. "It would be a substantial advance in the field if we can regenerate teeth rather than replace them."