Dental care is, for many people, a big problem — from birth, all the way to death. But could decayed teeth, root canal treatments, dentures, dental implants and missing teeth be a thing of the past soon? Bio-engineering teeth may sound futuristic, but that is exactly what scientists in London experimented with.
In a new study published in the Journal of Dental Research, a team of scientists based at King's College London's dental institute reveal that it is indeed possible to create brand new adult teeth from a combination of human gum cells and stem cells from mouse teeth.
Inserted into mouse kidney capsules, they can form real teeth complete with root structures and enamel.
You may wonder how a bunch of cells can be used to develop teeth. The mesenchymal stem cells the study team took from mice can be triggered to form into various types of tissue, including bone, cartilage, fat, and teeth. Together with epithelial cells taken from human gums, the mouse stem cells are able to respond to tooth-inducing signals, and can create a complete tooth once they are transferred to kidney capsules.
If you have a missing tooth, this is great news. Previous research has already proven that embryonic teeth are able to develop in an adult mouth, so you may be walking around with a neat bio-engineered tooth at some point in the future! Before that can happen, there is still a lot of work ahead for scientists, however.
The study's lead researcher, Professor Paul Sharpe, explained: "Epithelial cells derived from adult human gum tissue are capable of responding to tooth-inducing signals from embryonic tooth mesenchyme in an appropriate way to contribute to tooth crown and root formation and give rise to relevant differentiated cell types, following in-vitro culture.”
He added that the gum cells his team used are a realistic source that could be used for bio-engineered teeth in humans in the future. The next task would be to find a way to culture adult human mesenchymal stem cells, and trigger them to be tooth-inducing. The lead researcher pointed out that this is currently only possible with embryonic mesenchymal cells.
In order to create new teeth through bio-engineering, scientists would have to identify ways to obtain the required cells from humans, in large enough numbers.
The study team's conservative optimism may be typical among scientists, but it's probably fair to say that what they achieved with the mouse stem cells is nothing short of a miracle. As dentistry moves into a new age, the humans of the not-too-distant future may look at the dentures of today in amazement — when they visit a museum!