We all know from personal experience that we get two sets of teeth in our lifetime. The first set develops while we’re in the womb and sits underneath the gums, waiting to erupt (somewhere around 4-7 months old). Our second ‘permanent‘ set erupts anywhere between the ages of 6-13.
However, it’s a long time to go with only one set of teeth from the age of say 6 until death. So this begs the question… If we’re able to regrow missing teeth once, why can’t we replicate that feat again?
Once upon a time, everything was okay (for our teeth anyway)
Believe it or not, 150 years ago life was as good as it could get for our teeth! Our teeth had an excellent chance of outlasting the average human lifespan of 40 years.
With medical advances and better information about our overall health, we’re now living to around 80 and our teeth are expected to last twice as long. Yet, our changing lifestyles and 21st-century sugary food habits all contribute to faster dental decline, making it an altogether massive task for our teeth.
With this in mind, wouldn’t it be great if we could regrow teeth naturally in our forties and fifties to replace the ones we used earlier in life? After all, it would negate the need for troublesome dentures and bridges or costly procedures like dental implants!
Sounds a bit far-fetched?
Well, not when you consider that there are many species of animals and fish that list regrowing teeth naturally as one of their key characteristics. Some many times over!
Did you know for example that an alligator can generate a lost tooth up to 50 times? While a Lake Malawi Cichlid Fish has the ability to replace an entire mouthful of teeth every 50 days.
Okay, so what’s the connection?
In certain polyphyodonts (those who have the ability to regrow teeth naturally many times), it’s thought that both teeth and taste buds form in the exact same way within a layer of epithelial tissue found inside the mouth. In other words, during the embryonic stages, they’re pretty much indistinguishable from one another. It’s only later on in the development that a switch occurs which dictates whether the cell mutates into either sensory or dental structures (taste buds or teeth). For example, dentin and enamel will be formed to create teeth, or soft tissue formed to create taste buds.
Now here’s the important part
These same epithelial tissue cells are found in the mouths of humans, so this would suggest that these particular cell tissues might be more changeable than we first thought. The difficulty comes in knowing how to persuade the epithelial cells to form one structure or another, and that’s before we even get to the ethical implications of embryonic tampering!
In other words, although we do have the DNA to grow teeth naturally, it’s not certain at this point how to unlock it, or even if it’s morally right to do so! This is something that scientists are trying to find a way around, as they continue their research.
In 2014, a Harvard-led team successfully used low-powered lasers to activate stems cells in both rats and human dental tissue to stimulate tissue growth. The laser produced tiny oxygen-containing molecules which, when in contact with the stem cells, caused them to morph into cells producing dentin (tooth tissue). While early signs showed promise, it has yet to be tested fully on humans. However, if developed, it may open up a whole new world of dental possibilities. Just imagine, no more deep dental fillings!
But the million dollar question is…
How close are we to actually growing new teeth naturally?
The ‘tooth‘ of the matter is that these experiments are still in their infancy, so we may be several decades away from being able to fully regenerate teeth. Much more research needs to be done before any of these options are truly viable but suffice to say that the future of natural teeth development certainly looks bright. In the meantime, we wouldn’t suggest throwing away your dentures any time soon. You should still maintain your existing teeth as best as you can, because they may have to last you a very long time!