Rejoice, hockey players: scientists may have found a way for us to regrow our own lost teeth. Researchers from the Tokyo Medical and Dental University and the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology have figured out how to bud several functional teeth from a single tooth root. The researchers published their results last week in Scientific Reports.
Every tooth begins as a little seed-like bundle of cells. That bundle could become anything, but because of its location in the tooth-growing zone, its cells are bombarded with signals that tell them to become a tooth. Early on in the tooth development process, this bundle is known as a bud or a germ. It’s the potential hidden in these germs that interested the scientists.
The researchers implanted 889 tiny mouse tooth buds in petri dishes. At different stages in the buds’ development, the scientists wrapped a little string around each one and pulled it tight. The pulling squeezed the bud into a bottleneck shape, nearly cutting it in half. The divided buds were then left to continue growing.
Just how far along the bud was in its development affected what happened next. The researchers determined that the ideal moment to tie the string around the buds was about halfway through the buds’ 14th day of development. Buds that were reshaped at that stage were able to split into two healthy tooth buds.
The new buds were then implanted into living tissue, where they continued growing. Within 30 days, nearly 74 percent of the implanted buds had grown into fully functional teeth—teeth that could chomp, chew, and even feel pain.
So far, the scientists have only tested their multistage process in mice, but the results are promising. Other groups are currently at work on the problem as well; another article published last week suggested that we might someday be able to regenerate our teeth the same way fish do.