The words "You need root canal treatment" are not what you want to hear when you visit the dentist, even though millions of teeth are saved every year by the procedure. While the root canal procedure has a high success rate, it still leaves a dead tooth in the mouth. That could be about to change, however, with scientists reporting development of a nano-sized dental film that may bring diseased teeth back to life.

The root canal is the space inside the tooth. Soft tissue, or pulp, containing the tooth's nerves and blood vessels fills this natural cavity. If the pulp or nerves are damaged, due to decay or a cracked tooth for example, bacteria can cause infection in the tooth. Left untreated, an abscess could develop and cause damage to the bone around the teeth.

In years past, teeth with diseased or injured pulps were removed. More recently, root canal treatment has allowed dentists to remove the damaged pulp and retain the tooth.

Regenerative endodontics, the development and delivery of tissues to replace diseased or damaged dental pulp, has the potential to provide a revolutionary alternative to pulp removal.

Scientists have combined a substance called alpha melanocyte stimulating hormone (or alpha-MSH), which has anti-inflammatory properties, with a widely-used polymer to produce a material that fights inflammation in cells in dental pulp. Nano-films containing alpha-MSH could help revitalize damaged teeth, and even reduce the need for a root canal procedure.

The research was recently published in the journal ACS Nano.