One day, when you need a new tooth, you might grow one in a lab. No need for artificial porcelain or composite fixtures. You’ll use your teeth’s own stem cells to regenerate a brand new tooth, say researchers at the University of Southern California.
It may still be some way off, but the lab led by Yang Chai, a USC professor, has been working on some of the key processes to make it possible. In a recent study, the team focused on the question of why incisor teeth in rodents keep growing while rodent molar teeth stop growing after reaching a certain size. By comparing the make-up of the incisors with that of the molar teeth, they could divine the “signaling pathways” that could allow us to grow teeth from scratch.
The scientists hope to be able to “reactivate” the stem cells in teeth that are no longer growing, so they can produce a tooth root that will grow. But Jingyuan Li, one of the researchers on Chai’s team, cautions that there’s a distance to travel yet. “Our findings represent just a small piece of the puzzle in understanding the complex signaling network for controlling tooth stem cells,” he says. “Our study takes us a step closer to the final goal of regenerating human teeth. But there is still yet a long way before these findings can be translated into the clinic.”
It’s already possible to regrow mice teeth, as we saw here. But there’s a shortage of cells available for regrowing human teeth. Li says his lab may need to take “adult cells from oral tissues, and then convert them into induced stem cells with the potential to regenerate teeth through manipulating the related signaling pathways.”