Years ago, the eventual loss of teeth wasn’t an “if” but a “when.” Dentures were just seen as part of life, and people looked forward with dread to the day they would have to give up their favorite foods in favor of loose-fitting, unnatural replacement teeth. Then came modern dental implants, and things changed. Suddenly it was possible to replace missing teeth with natural, durable, and aesthetically appealing implants.

But, for some people, a dental implant isn’t always possible because there simply isn’t enough bone to effectively hold the new titanium root. Bone grafts are often the solution in these cases, but that adds time to the healing process and requires even more trips to the office.

What if there were other ways to replace these teeth? What if you could regrow your own teeth in a relatively short time?

Sound like something you’d see in Star Trek? Maybe a little. But the research is getting a lot closer to making this a reality than you might think.

Starting with the Bone

Instead of grafting a new bone into the patient’s jaw, a lot of new research is looking into something called Guided Bone Regeneration (GBR). This is basically a number of procedures that are meant to help regenerate the bone, using a barrier membrane, in those areas where the bone might be deficient.

This means that it might be possible to regenerate the bone structure necessary to take an implant. But what if you could go a step beyond that?

Growing a New Tooth

In a study that was published in the Journal of Dental Research, some scientists and dentists have started pioneering a new technique that uses the body’s own step cells to create an anatomically correct tooth in a few as nine weeks.

The goal of this research is to home stem cells “to a scaffold made of natural materials and integrated in surrounding tissue.” This is a lot of fancy words to say that there is no need to use harvested stem cell lines or try to grow the tooth in a petri dish and implant it later. Instead, the final purpose of these experiments is to grow the tooth in the socket where it can integrate with the surrounding tissues.

Why Stem Cells?

Stem cells don’t function like ordinary cells in your body. As they multiply they have the ability to transform into many different types of cells in the body. They can repair the tissues in your body by dividing either as a new stem cell or as a cell with a more specialized job.

How Far Has Research Come?

In one experiment, hybrid teeth were created by combining human gum cells and stem cells from mice. These teeth were grown in laboratory mice, and the results were very definitely recognizable tooth structures, with enamel and viable roots.

The experiment involved epithelial cells from human gum tissues (the surface lining cells) and mesenchymal cells from mice. These cells can potentially develop into different tissues, including bone, fat, and cartilage. The epithelials responded to the tooth-inducing signals from the mesenchyme in a way that contributed to the growth of the tooth crown and root formation.

Human biotooth formation is definitely a subject of interest and is receiving more and more attention as results like these are achieved.

The next step at the moment is to identify “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.”

If it works and the development continues, scientists are predicting that teeth can be replaced in a more natural process with faster recovery times, all from using the body’s own potential to regrow tissue. Ideally, the results could result in new teeth that won’t give out and could last the patient’s lifetime