As reported by the Journal Inquirer, September 4, 2007.

Time to Modernize the Dental Field

By Matthew Engelhardt

A University of Connecticut dentistry professor thinks it is time for dentists to start helping patients regrow teeth that have been lost or damaged rather than patching or replacing them with artificial materials.

The professor, Dr. Edward F. Rossomondo, specializes in craniofacial sciences at the UConn School of Dental Medicine, a branch of the UConn Health Center in Farmington.

Unlike other fields of medicine that utilize cutting-edge technology, he says, modern dentists are still using the same tools and procedures as they did 20 years ago.

Rossomondo, a doctor of dental surgery, believes it is time to modernize the field. He says the answer lies in biodontics, the use of cellular elements for the repair, restoration, and replacement of teeth.

According to Rossomondo, technology now exists by which doctors can grow a tooth from a stem cell instead of using artificial materials, as today's commonly used dental implants do. He said a regrown tooth can be safer and less painful to patients.

"You don't have the harmful effects, and you don't have the problems related to the use of metals and plastics," Rossomondo says.

The professor is critical of modern practices and what he deems an unwillingness to move away from "xenodontics," using metal, ceramic, or plastic-based implements that are foreign to the body.

Rossomondo uses dental implants as an example of the differences. In current dentistry, he says, a metal screw is placed into a patient's jaw, which is then covered with a ceramic crown.

Occasionally, the body will reject the artificial implant as it would any foreign substance. That can render the procedure useless and possibly expose the patient to infection.

"In contrast, a biodontic implant will use stem cells which are placed into the jaw and result in complete development of a new tooth," Rossomondo says.

Despite advancements in biodontics, Rossomondo says, most practicing dentists are afraid to stray from common practices. He thinks the approach to the field must change and hopes to inspire his dental students to apply more advanced science.

Rossomondo teaches a biodontics course at the UConn Health Center every summer. Students are exposed to advanced technology and techniques to incorporate the science into their studies.

"The goal of the program is to promote the introduction of new products and technology into the dental profession with the goal of improving the oral health of the American people," Rossomondo says.

The students submit surveys at the end of the course, and Rossomondo says their responses indicate that they realize the potential and importance of biodontics as they move into their own dental practices.

"My philosophy is to use the dental students themselves as the agents of change, not the practitioners," Rossomondo says.

Stem-cell research is a vital part of biodontics. Rossomondo says the state has provided UConn with a $10 million research grant that has helped his program.

As it applies to teeth, stem-cell research isn't as controversial as the federal government seems to think, Rossomondo argues.

Stem cells can be derived from baby teeth, and companies in the private sector have begun creating tooth banks as a source for research, he explains. That avoids the moral and political issues associated with use of embryonic stem cells.