Biological Teeth Grow from Gum Cells
CREDIT: Toothpaste image via Martin Muransky | Shutterstock
Rodents have teeth that grow continuously throughout their lifetimes, but humans are not quite so lucky. If a human damages an adult tooth, there's little he or she can do about it, save for undergoing costly dental work with artificial replacements.
Those who have lost teeth (or may do so in the future) may be heartened to learn that a group of scientists in both London and Japan have taken the first steps toward creating real replacement teeth that could take root and grow in a host's mouth. By engineering a human-mouse tooth hybrid, researchers were able to grow biological teeth with many standard dental characteristics.
While researchers have played around with using stem cells to regenerate teeth, these structures are generally not suitable for human implantation. Instead, researchers isolated gingival (gum) cells from human hosts and combined them with mesenchymal (connective) mouse cells. The resulting teeth — while neither fully human nor mouse — contained dentine, enamel and roots that could theoretically fuse inside a host's mouth.
These creations, called bioteeth, would not work in their current form, since no human/mouse hybrid animal exists to house them. At present, scientists can create immature bioteeth for humans, but there is no feasible way to make them take root.
Some of the materials necessary for this project are easy to come by, but human mesenchymal cells, which would be integral to the process, have not proven as pliable as their mouse counterparts. "The next major challenge is to identify a way to culture adult human mesenchymal cells to be tooth-inducing," study co-author Paul Sharpe, a professor at King's College London, said in a statement. [See also: Top 10 Life-Changing Inventions]
Even though the process is still unrefined, and making it both biologically and commercially viable will take some time, bioteeth hold significant promise, scientists say. In addition to aiding people who lose or fracture teeth due to injury or age, bioteeth could aid people with inborn tooth conditions. They may also prevent a great deal of distress that comes with false replacement teeth, since these prosthetics are often prone to cracking, causing jaw pain and inducing bone destruction.
In the meantime, take good care of your teeth. Biotooth technology won't be perfected for some time, and having to settle for hybrid mouse teeth would bring its own share of problems.