One of the most basic elements of any news release about a lab study with implications for humans is to make it clear that the study is still at the animal or — in this case — animal cell stage. This release not only skips any mention of mice, it also makes the leap that because the drug in question has “previously been used in clinical trials to treat neurological disorders including Alzheimer’s disease” that it would speed the pathway for a new dental treatment. The mixing in of references to an experimental Alzheimer’s drug in the headline of this release and the text are confusing and misleading to say the least. (It suggests an Alzheimer’s drug can repair dental cavities by activating dental pulp stem cells.) But the release has so many other problems that just fixing that still would not have provided readers with the information they deserved. We rarely give 0 “stars” for reviews but this is one situation where we had to.
Even with flouride treatment and routine dental care, teeth get cavities. Each time a filling is replaced, a larger area is involved until eventually teeth crack, break or need to be removed. A topical treatment that naturally repaired teeth would be wonderful. However, this research is far from ready for prime time.
There is no discussion of costs in the release.
Tideglusib, the drug they refer to, is listed by one chemical supplier (in the US it appears only to be available from research lab suppliers) as going for $80 for 10mg to $280 for 50 mg. This is not exactly inexpensive and it is unclear how much needs to be used, especially as mice teeth are so much smaller than human teeth.
There is no quantification of benefits in the release. Another thing not mentioned is that this is not an immediate fix the way fillings are. It is unclear how long the sponge has to stay in place or whether one can eat once it is applied. With the study taking place in a lab on teeth but not on actual eating animals no doubt an answer would be based on conjecture.
There is no mention of potential harms from the drug in question.
This is the most egregious flaw in the release. Everything in the news release is centered around human cavities and how they are so often filled with “man made” cements or other fillings. Then the release talks about emerging natural dental treatments. And it goes on to say, “Using biodegradable collagen sponges to deliver the treatment, the team applied low doses of small molecule glycogen synthase kinase (GSK-3) to the tooth. They found that the sponge degraded over time and that new dentine replaced it, leading to complete, natural repair. Collagen sponges are commercially-available and clinically-approved, again adding to the potential of the treatment’s swift pick-up and use in dental clinics.” Nowhere does it mention that these collagen sponges were used to apply the treatment to tooth cells from mice, tooth cells that had been specially prepared in a lab setting to allow for the experiment, far from real world conditions.
Most of us have cavities that have been filled at some point. Some of us have fillings that have had to be replaced. The release presents the current methods not only as flawed but also potentially bad for our health, saying, “The novel, biological approach could see teeth use their natural ability to repair large cavities rather than using cements or fillings, which are prone to infections and often need replacing a number of times. Indeed when fillings fail or infection occurs, dentists have to remove and fill an area that is larger than what is affected, and after multiple treatments the tooth may eventually need to be extracted.”
The release doesn’t tell us who sponsored the research or whether there are any conflicting financial interests. The published study, however, states that the research was supported by the Medical Research Council, the NIHR GSTFT/KCL Biomedical Research Centre and the CNPq, Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico, and that there were no conflicts of interest. We encourage all news releases to mention funders and list potential financial conflicts if there are any.
The release does make reference to standard dental treatments but does not provide a fair comparison.
The release really colors the truth when it comes to availability, saying that because the sponges used in the experiment are frequently used in labs and, because one of the treatments being tested has been used in clinical trials for an entirely different purpose, that the treatment could lead to a rapid road to use in humans.
The release does not establish novelty, even though it uses the phrase “novel, biological approach.”
The lede reads, “A new method of stimulating the renewal of living stem cells in tooth pulp using an Alzheimer’s drug has been discovered by a team of researchers at King’s College London.” While this seemingly addresses novelty, it’s not clear that the researchers are talking about mice teeth.
The release has repeated uses of unjustifiable language. It says that, “As this new method encourages natural tooth repair, it could eliminate all of these issues, providing a more natural solution for patients.” It also says twice that it could be fast tracked into clinical practice. That’s an over-the-top statement for a molecular treatment being tested in the cells of mice teeth.