The science of tooth replacement is one that, like all medical science, is constantly in a stage of evolution, getting better and better with less and less negative side effects and complications. Until now, the best chance you had was to get a crown or a bridge to replace your missing tooth. This method allowed you to regain normal chewing function, but it cannot stop the disintegration of alveolar tissue, and thus could not prevent tooth loss. The problem is, when you lose a tooth, the tissue that supports teeth, the soft tissue in the gums, starts to disintegrate, and this will make the adjacent teeth loosen as well, and eventually the those will fall out too. So an artificial tooth root was invented partially by accident in the sixties, and this was known as the dental implant. Now the way we replace missing teeth is by anchoring the crown or bridge to the dental implant, and thus no alveolar tissue is lost.
The problem is that dental implants, over time, will eventually start to wobble around and due to friction on the micro scale, will eventually start to wear out the jawbone that it is implanted in. It also involves an invasive surgery that only people with healthy jawbones and relatively good oral health can undergo. The surgery also excludes the elderly, those suffering from diabetes, osteoporosis or taking bisphosphonate drugs, usually prescribed for cancer patients. This is why some other solution is being sought out, to include as many people in tooth replacement as possible.
The next step that is being sought after is a bioengineered tooth. The idea is to implant a living, biologically compatible tooth into the patient, or a tooth bud that will grow into a fully functioning adult tooth into the patient.
Sounds pretty bizarre doesn’t it? Well, it can be a reality and much sooner than you may think! Here are some of the lines of research that scientists have been investigating:
The patients own stem cells: Stem cells can be grown into any sort of cell whatsoever. Take a stem cell, tell it to become a tooth bud, and then implant the tooth bud back into the patient- this is the dream of every scientist. Clean, efficient, with hardly any surgery involved. The baby teeth of mice have successfully been “cloned” in this way, and the human version is underway. Tooth buds can also be grown and implanted.
Stem cells of other animals: Alligators have special stem cells in their pouches next to their tooth roots that turn into tooth cells the moment the tooth is gone. As alligators lose a lot of teeth in their lives, this is an interesting option, and the cells are being modified to fit humans as we speak.
Teeth Primordia: Aside from stem cell,s it seems that other tissue can also be used to grow teeth. Epithelial cells in the gums can develop into tooth buds if stimulated, and this line of research is also being conducted.
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