A beautiful smile — it’s a prized possession here in North America. However, people in pursuit of dental glory face many obstacles, including maintaining proper diet, bad habits, genetics, and the difficulty in keeping up a strict dental hygiene routine. Even bad luck can be the cause of your unfortunate tooth loss — a bicycle accident or a fall down the stairs, for example.
Some of these difficulties are easier to overcome than others, but even when you put a lot of effort into fighting tooth decay, it can seem like keeping a full set of teeth into your later years is an almost impossible task. In fact, dentures are considered by many to be an inevitable part of life.
Those who need some help filling in the gaps will rejoice when they find out that medical research has brought us closer to something that seemed unachievable until recently: the growing of new adult teeth.
A study out of Japan has brought us one step closer to the creation of a viable human tooth implant. The researchers, from the Tokyo University of Science, performed a study involving mice to see if a “tooth bud” could develop into a full tooth once it’s implanted into the mouth.
A tooth grows from a “tooth germ,” which is the little bump in the gums that is the precursor to the tooth. In this recent study, the researchers placed some cells — “mesenchymal” cells and “epithelial” cells, to be specific — taken from the tooth germ of mice into some collagen gel. Collagen is the fibrous protein that makes up connective tissue (e.g. tendons, ligaments) in the body. . . and it’s a primary component in tooth structure. Note that the cells used weren’t stem cells, but were cells in the later stages of cell differentiation, so they already had a blueprint for what they should become.
When the germs had grown into 1.3 mm buds, the Japanese team placed them into the mouths of adult mice that had had some teeth removed. Amazingly, the tooth buds soon took root and began to look like regular teeth, with the proper structure and characteristics. Basically, the scientists had grown a working tooth from scratch!
In previous studies, scientists had been able to create the mouse tooth transplants from cells using a mouse’s kidney as the growing environment, but had not proven that they could grow and develop normally within the mouth. Now that this has been proven, what’s next on the list? To see if this result could be replicated in humans, that’s what!
So, one day, it could be possible for you to fill in all those unsightly gaps in your teeth with natural tooth implants. However, these interesting study findings are not only relevant to the dental industry but also to medical science in general. Why? In theory, if a tooth can be created from cells and implanted successfully, then it should be possible to do so with other organs — the heart, liver, or bladder, for example.