Could Humans Regrow Lost Teeth?

Could Humans Regrow Lost Teeth?

If a team of researchers at the University of Southern California is successful, that semiannual checkup at the dentist might become a lot less necessary. That’s because this group of scientists is trying to figure out a way for humans to regrow teeth, sort of like how our hair grows back after it’s cut. As it stands, humans have only two sets of teeth during their lifetime: first, baby (“deciduous”) teeth that last until about 10 or 12 years of age, and then permanent teeth into and throughout adulthood.

However, by studying animals with regenerative ability — in particular, alligators, who can regrow teeth (which are apparently similar to humans’) up to 50 times — the researchers hope to understand the process of regeneration and uncover the key to growing back lost teeth. According to Cheng Ming Chuong, lead author of a report published by the group in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, alligators’ teeth grow in sets of three. If an adult tooth is lost, there’s a baby tooth waiting to take its place and grow into an adult tooth. If that happens, a stem cell grows into another backup baby tooth, and the cycle repeats itself.

While it seems unlikely to the layperson that humans could ever have this X-Men-like ability, Chuong and company are optimistic that at some point in the future, injections of hormones or molecules could allow you to grow new teeth over and over. After all, he explains, human DNA already has the genetic material required to regrow teeth and even regenerate other parts of the body, but that code isn’t “turned on” as it is with animals like alligators, sharks (which can also regrow teeth), lobsters (which can regrow claws), geckos (which can regrow their tail) and starfish (which can regrow arms).

(Sources: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, US News & World Report)