RSDM Researcher Seeks Alternatives to Root Canal

Dr. Emi Shimuzu

Dr. Emi Shimuzu’s research could some day help change a procedure dental patients dread: the root canal.

Shimuzu is an endodontist studying how to regenerate dental pulp and dentin as an alternative to removing the pulp during root canals.

During the procedure, the pulp is extracted, and the remaining root is filled with synthetic material. But although the tooth remains, it is essentially dead. Pulp maintains healthy teeth and without it, they become vulnerable to injury and caries, says Shimuzu, who arrived in the oral biology department of RSDM last year as a professor. It can even lead to an abscess of the bone because nerves within the pulp are no longer there to cause pain — a warning sign of infection.

“My approach is that you should leave the nervous system inside as long as possible,’’ said Shimuzu.

Her work involves isolating stem cells and cultivating them to form the vascular systems that comprise the nervous system of dentin. At New York University College of Dentistry, where she worked before arriving at RSDM, Shimuzu received a $1.5 million five-year NIH grant to pursue her research, which has carried over to RSDM.

Japanese researchers have made progress in the regeneration of pulp and Shimuzu, who is from Japan, plans to advance the field in the U.S. “I hope people will have a choice between a root canal, which would be cheaper, or a regenerative procedure. This should be worldwide.’’