By Peter Russell
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Sheena Meredith, MD
March 12, 2013 -- Growing a replacement tooth from your own cells may be a step closer, according to new research.
It is still too early for use in people, but the technique involves taking stem cells and growing more of them to produce a very small, immature tooth, similar to what a tooth would look like when it starts to grow in an embryo.
"It's very immature and very small," says Paul Sharpe, the Dickinson professor of craniofacial biology at King's College, London, who led the work. "These are transplanted directly into the mouth where they get their blood supply, and they start to grow and gradually form a complete tooth."
Although the technique is unlikely to allow scientists to grow a specific type of tooth, dentists would be able to shape the tooth crown according to its position in the jaw.
Hybrid Human Teeth in Mice
Sharpe's team from the Dental Institute at King's College combined human gum cells with the cells in mice responsible for growing teeth. They transplanted this combination of cells into the mice. The result was hybrid human/mouse teeth with roots.
The ability to make a tooth replacement with roots would be a major step forward in dental surgery. Replacing missing or damaged teeth currently involves fixed or removable dental implants.
Putting Down Roots
Although implants work well, the impact from chewing can wear down the implant. This is not a problem with natural teeth because they have soft tissue at the root that acts as a shock absorber.
The latest advance made by Sharpe and his team brings the prospect of bioengineered teeth with their own root system a step closer. The next step will be finding enough adult sources of human cells to make this new technique a viable alternative to dental implants.
The study appears in the Journal of Dental Research.