Losing a tooth is a horrific experience as an adult – especially if it’s visible when you smile. While some businesses could help you replace or repair any missing or broken teeth, it’s just not the same as having real teeth. In the future, you may not have to settle for a repair job. Researchers have recently discovered a way to replace a tooth using a person’s own gum cells. Dubbed “bioteeth,” this process may be the future of dentistry.
What Are BioTeeth?
Bioteeth refers to the process of replacing missing teeth with bioengineered teeth generated from a person’s own gum cells. Current implants using whole tooth replacement don’t actually replace the natural root structure. So, while there appears to be a tooth in place, it’s not the same as a real tooth with real roots.
As a consequence, there’s often a loss of jaw bone around the implant due to the constant friction from eating and other jaw movements. Professor Paul Sharpe leads the research in bioteeth, focusing on the generation of immature teeth that mimic teeth found in the embryo. These teeth, it is hypothesized, can be transplanted as small pellets into an adult mouth. From there, they will grow into a functional tooth similar to the original tooth.
What Are Stem Cells?
Bioteeth relies on stem cells – specifically, embryonic tooth primordia. Stem cells are found in all multicellular organisms and can differentiate into a diverse number of specialized cell types. They can also self-renew to produce more stem cells.
In the human body, there are two broad types of stem cells: embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells. Embryonic stem cells are cultures of cells that come from epiblast tissue of the inner cell mass of an embryo. In other words, it comes from an embryo that is four to five days old in humans, consisting of 50 to 150 cells.
Adult stem cells, also called somatic stem cells, are found in children and adults in a few places within the body. These cells are normally referred to by tissue type (i.e. bone marrow).
Bioteeth is of the embryonic type, similar to those found in am embryo. However, according to professor Sharpe, embryos appear to be an impractical source for tooth primordia at this point. His team of researchers is looking for alternative sources (i.e. adult stem cells which may be able to accomplish the same thing as embryonic cells).
How BioTeeth Could Change Dentistry
Going into the dentist to have a root canal may be a thing of the past if you can regrow your own teeth. Cavities won’t be the end of a pretty smile, and gum diseases won’t rob you of your oral health. In effect, this technology will give you a second chance.
Because researchers can already grow teeth with enamel, roots, and everything else inherent in a normal human mouth, there may be a day when you walk into your dentist’s office and walk out with a new tooth – literally.
So far, progress has been slow. The researchers have demonstrated that epithelial cells from adult gum tissue can be prompted to give rise to differentiated cell types and can grow into teeth. However, the challenge is to identify a way of culturing mesenchymal cells in such a way that they retain their tooth-forming capacity. There’s also the issue of growing a sufficient number of cells. The funding is non-existent for further research, and more money is needed to see whether there is any commercial viability for this method.