Scientists Create Human Teeth in a Lab

Could Dental Implants Be Replaced by Bioengineered Teeth?

They may not be flying to work in hover cars, but dentists may soon be able to utilize a fascinating scientific advance in their offices that seems to be ripped straight from pages of science fiction. Researchers at King’s College London’s Dental Institute have developed a process for growing new teeth in adults using their own gum tissue. No, that’s not the Kleenex they spit their chewing gum in; it’s a collection of cells from the human gum, and scientists were able to use to bioengineer teeth (“bioteeth”) capable of growing their own roots.

The potential for root growth is of particular value, because the current method of permanent tooth replacement — dental implants — use metallic screws to attach the tooth to the jawbone rather than a natural root structure. This can lead to friction between the metal and the jaw that can wear down the bone, along with a number of other complications, including infection, tissue damage and incorrect positioning of the implant. If this method can reduce or replace dental implants in the future, many of these dangers could be avoided.

The bioengineering process involves using gum tissue to generate tiny “cell pellets” that are implanted in the patient’s jaw and develop into immature teeth (“tooth primordia”) — similar to those in an embryo — that grow into normal-sized teeth just as they would if they developed naturally. Currently, the technique has been tested only on mice — using a combination of human cells and mouse cells that grew hybrid human-mouse teeth in rodent test subjects — and while the success rate so far has been only around 20%, it may be only a matter of time before scientists can do the same in humans (minus the mouse hybrid part).

So far, studies have been able to get only embryonic cells to grow teeth, which could be impractical in the long run, so the biggest hurdle right now is getting adult cells to do the same.

(Sources: EurekAlert, Discovery Fit & Health)