Soon you’ll be able to replace your dentures with "natural" teeth grown in a laboratory.
Researchers from the U.K. have successfully bioengineered teeth from gum tissue and cells taken from mice. By combining and transplanting two groups of cells, they were able to grow full teeth, complete with roots, dentine, and enamel.
The cells from the mice, known as micemesenchyme, are cultured in the lab to induce the human epithelial cells to become teeth, according to Professor Paul Sharpe, who leads the research. The advantage of home-grown teeth is a better fit: Implants tend to cause friction during eating and jaw action, leading to a gradual loss of bone. The bio-tooth is "natural," "with a normal root structure and connections to bone."
The research was carried out at King’s College London, and is published in the latest issue of the Journal of Dental Research.
The problem is finding micemesenchyme in human form, and in commercial quantities. "What is required is adult sources of human epithelial and mesenchymal cells that can be obtained in sufficient numbers to make biotooth formation a viable alternative to dental implants," Sharpe says.
The aim is to produce teeth under $1,500 a pop. But Sharpe says it will be at least five years before we see those, and he admits other scientists may get there first. A company Sharpe founded a few years ago to commercialize the work folded when investors baulked at the time frames involved.
"This cell based research takes lot of time and funders are impatient," he says, in an email. "Crazy, but that’s what we have to live with. If/when we get a fully working protocol that uses cells that could be used in patients, I will most likely seek out links with the large dental companies."