Forget Dentures, Grow Your Teeth!

Petri dishes in use

Can you imagine a world where we can lose our adult teeth in old age, and be able to grow back a new set?  I couldn’t, until a new study was printed in the Journal of Dental Research.  What it suggests is close to a miracle; in the future, ‘seeds‘ could be planted in the human jaw which would then grow into teeth.

If we can grow teeth in mice, why not humans?

I’ll attempt to break down the medical terminology for you.   A team of scientists at King’s College in London took samples of epithelial cells (cells that line the cavities of the body and also cover flat surfaces) from adult human gum tissue and combined it with another type of cell found in mice in order to grow a tooth.

The epithelial cells were first cultured in the lab and allowed to grow before being mixed with mesenchyme cells of mice—inducing cells that “told the epithelial cells what to grow into.”  After transplanting the mixture back into the mice, they were able to grow hybrid human-mouse teeth.  That might sound a bit strange, but it’s a huge step forward and substantiates that this can be done in the human mouth.

An example of the hybrid human/mouse biotooth grown by researchers.

The big deal here is that a cell population exists that can grow teeth!  However, two big obstacles lie ahead.  The first will be finding an accessible source of mesenchyme cells (I won’t bother to explain what those are).  Human mesenchyme cells are found in the pulp of wisdom teeth and other places, but it has proved difficult to not only garner but also grow them.

The second challenge is finding a way to make human mesenchyme cells tooth-inducing.  Currently, only embryonic mesenchymal cells are capable of inducing tooth development. Previous attempts to create “bioteeth” have involved the use of these embryonic stem cells, which proved to be expensive and impractical for use in a dental clinic.

We might not need artificial teeth one day, thanks to science!

Another challenge of course is making the new technology as affordable as dentures so to replace them entirely.  Growing teeth is preferable to dentures or dental implants as they “cannot reproduce a natural root structure. Also friction from eating and other jaw movement can cause the bone around the implant to wear away.”

Don’t get too excited—the new denture-replacing technique shouldn’t be feasible for quite some time.  On the plus side, scientists estimate that some aspect of this technology like bio-fillings should be available in the next 10-15 years.

The option to grow teeth is a huge plus for dentists.  We have long looked forward to a replacement for dentures!


Dr. Sam Sadati is the owner and practitioner of The Sadati Center of Aesthetic Dentistry in West Palm Beach and a leader in the world of cosmetic dentistry and smile design. He is the only accredited cosmetic dentist in all of South Florida and is one of only forty dentists in the world to receive an Accredited Fellow honor from the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD).  Apart from creating beautiful smiles, Dr. Sadati enjoys photography, travel, and the opportunity to tell a good joke.  If you have a question or comment, dental-related or otherwise, connect with us on Facebook or Twitter. We always reply to our fans and followers!