Open wide, this won’t hurt a bit. That might actually be true if the dentist’s drill is replaced by a promising low-powered laser that can prompt stem cells to make damaged hard tissue in teeth grow back. Such minimally invasive treatment could one day offer an easy way to repair or regrow our pearly whites.

When a tooth is chipped or damaged, dentists replace it with ceramic or some other inert material, but these deteriorate over time.

To find something better, researchers have begun to look to¬†regenerative medicine¬†and in particular to stem cells to promote tissue repair. Most potential stem cell therapies require the addition of growth factors or chemicals to coax dormant stem cells to differentiate into the required cell type. These chemicals would be applied either directly to the recipient’s body, or to stem cells that have been removed from the body and cultured in a dish for implantation.

But such treatments have yet to make it into the doctor’s clinic because the approach needs to be precisely controlled so that the stem cells don’t differentiate uncontrollably.