For many, a toothache can reveal their deepest and darkest fears. For many, the truth is that the dentist can give you a storm of emotions to the point where you may try to avoid your appointment altogether.
Problems with your teeth only get worse if left unattended. That’s why the majority of people with dental anxiety leave a problem unchecked until it’s too late. In such cases, you may eventually be faced with the need to replace a lost tooth.
Common diseases such as tooth decay and gum disease can cause tooth loss. Traditionally, dentists have used dental bridges and dentures to replace diseased teeth. Dental implants were one of the biggest innovations in dental treatment in the late 20th century. Replacing teeth with space age metal seems to have reached an incredible level of technology.
But recent advances in stem cell research have revealed a future where dental implants may become obsolete technology.
Can Stem Cells Replace Natural Tooth?
You could say that being human makes us unlucky in terms of how many teeth we have come out in our lives. You only have two sets of teeth in your lifetime. When you’re 12 or 13, milk teeth are lost. This means your adult teeth should last you for the rest of your life.
Meanwhile, some other species have unlimited teeth throughout their lives. A shark is so fantastically unique in this regard that they can replace teeth in just a few weeks. The idea of a shark’s mouth probably scares you about something scarier than a dentist. But sharks are testament to nature’s ability to grow new teeth into adulthood.
Scientists took this lead and investigated how stem cells could be used to grow new teeth in an adult human. Nature can have significant advantages over dental implants. Due to the cost and complexity, dental implants are not a common dental procedure. A procedure involving stem cells could provide a much more accessible and affordable tooth replacement option.
For example, dental implants cannot be placed in people with certain conditions. Also, many people fear the dental implant procedure. It requires oral surgery, which has recently progressed remarkably.
So, considering sharks, are stem cells the future of replacing teeth? What Are Dental Stem Cells?
There are many different types of cells in the body. As a tiny dot from the moment you are born, you are not equipped with all the different cell types required in the body. Stem cells are what help you create all the different organs and systems that make you who you are. They are undifferentiated cells that can develop into any cell in your body.
Stem cells can be found in most tissues of the body and help build and regenerate your body. They are often buried deep, in hard-to-find places. They are usually sparse and hidden among cells of a similar appearance.
These cells have the full ability to replicate themselves.
Because dental stem cells are compatible with the body’s immune system, they can have applications in many areas of medical science. One problem with implanting stem cells is that the body can reject them through an immune response. But besides having potential roles in other medical procedures, the obvious application is actually replacing teeth. Studies are starting to show concrete ways to implant teeth with dental stem cells.
Scientists May Grow Teeth in Animal Models
Significant progress has been made in the use of stem cells in animal studies. Teeth successfully grown at King’s College London. The research team combined human gum tissue and stem cells from mouse teeth that went into tooth formation. The cells themselves can seek a blood supply from the surrounding tissue to make a living tooth.
Other studies have successfully implanted teeth into mice. A research team at Harvard’s Whys Institute has found success in regrowing mouse teeth. They used a technique that uses a low-power laser to activate stem cells to regrow the tooth structure.
A study at Columbia University took it to the next level. Here, the researchers were able to guide stem cells to create a three-dimensional scaffold. The results showed that an anatomically complete tooth could grow in about 9 weeks.
The big question with all these studies is to reproduce the results in humans. Of course, dentistry on rats was not without its difficulties. While dentin is incredibly similar to what naturally grows, it is not exactly the same as humans.
Baby (Stem Cell) Steps
The biggest challenges facing dental stem cells are producing reliable human clinical outcomes. Stem cells may help teeth heal as a temporary step in the dentist’s chair, rather than replacing entire teeth.
For example, teeth are known to contain cells that can self-heal the dentin layers. There may be some intermediate steps for stem cells to heal teeth. In tooth decay, stem cells can heal a cavity before a tooth requires root canal treatment. Stem cells can repair dental pulp and direct the immune system to destroy bacteria that cause tooth decay.
One thing is certain, we all have stem cells in our teeth. Rather than simply throwing a tooth in the trash after extraction, we can buy cells for a future where they can be used to replace a tooth.
As so many people move to cryopreserve their own cells, storing the stem cells retained in our teeth may become standard. Currently, milk teeth and wisdom teeth are the best candidates, and these are the teeth we usually lose the most. Healthy teeth contain these fascinating cells and may work miracles in the dental chair in the future.