Nothing can strike fear into a grown man’s heart quite like being told he’s in need of a root canal, but a new stem cell dental implant may one day make this painful operation a thing of the past. Researchers from the University of Nottingham and Harvard University have developed a dental filling that stimulates tooth regrowth, and allows teeth to repair themselves while preventing any further dental damage.

The innovative tooth filling can be drilled and implanted into the decaying tooth just like a traditional filling. However, it’s what happens once implanted that makes this product so impressive. Rather than simply filling a hole, the implants stimulate stem cells to encourage the growth of dentin — the bony material that makes up the majority of the tooth, Newsweek reported.

Normally, when you receive a filling, a dentist will drill into your tooth and implant a permanent fixture, usually porcelain, a tooth-colored filling material, gold, or other metal alloys, into the pulp tissue inside the tooth. This soft tissue is very much alive and made up of nerves and blood vessels, hence why drilling hurts oh so very much.

“We have designed synthetic biomaterials that can be used similarly to dental fillings but can be placed in direct contact with pulp tissue to stimulate the native stem cell population for repair and regeneration of pulp tissue and the surrounding dentin,” Adam Celiz, a Marie Curie research fellow at the University of Nottingham, told Newsweek.

Sometimes the tooth decay is too far along and the filling is not enough to prevent further infection. Although today we may think of tooth decay as an annoying but otherwise harmless problem, in very rare cases, tooth decay can spread and become extremely dangerous if left untreated. Infection in an upper back tooth can spread to the sinus behind the eye, from which it can enter the brain and cause death.

When an ordinary filling fails to control an infection, a dentist will recommend a root canal. This procedure involves removing the tooth pulp, nerves and all, to prevent further tooth decay, BGR reported. The now hollowed-out tooth chamber is then filled with a permanent object known as a gutta-percha to keep the tooth free from further decay. Unfortunately, because the living material in the tooth has been removed, it is far more likely to fall out over time.

The new device could prevent the need for these painful procedures by ensuring that tooth decay never gets this bad in the first place and allowing patients to “regrow” their damaged chompers.

Already, the innovative new dental fillings were recently awarded a prize from the Royal Society of Chemistry after judges described it as a “new paradigm for dental treatments,” Newsweek reported. The scientists are now hoping to develop the technique with industry partners in order to make it available for commercial use. And while it’s far too soon to see this new tool available at your local dentist’s office, it does suggest that the dark days of painful tooth decay may soon be over.