Stem cell research has been highly controversial the past few years, and cell uses are widely debated and varied. While stem cells are not usually applied to the dental industry, new research suggests that stem cells could be the new future for tooth regrowth. Techniques relating to this new movement in teeth regeneration were on display at the Royal Society’s Summer Science Exhibition in England a few months ago. If stem cell teeth became a common treatment, artificial implants may be a thing of the past.
Worldwide, dentistry is one of the most costly expenses, with many dental procedures costing far more than other medical treatments. Implants for broken or decayed teeth are about $2500 and are not permanent–they can start to deteriorate after just 30 years. They are also screwed directly into the jaw, meaning they do not have any of the original tooth connections.
Scientists are working to create a biological alternative by using adult cells to grow fully functioning teeth. This treatment may be successful in mice in just 5 years. Rather than focus on embryonic cells, the treatment will try to use adult cells so it has a better chance of getting approved and coming to market. The cells would come from the patient themselves, negating the need for immunosuppressants to avoid the body rejecting the treatment.
The treatment will hopefully be only two times as expensive as an average implant when it first releases, and has the added benefit of being biologically engineered and lasts for a lifetime. The doctors responsible for this treatment are searching for the right combination of adult cells that will yield a messaging system to allow the teeth to function like natural, intact teeth.
This is not the first time that dental stem cells have made history. Earlier in May, a team of Harvard scientists used a low-powered laser to stimulate stem cells to regenerate tissue. The tissue was dentin, an essential bone-like substance that makes up the majority of the tooth. Many of these stem cells are derived from the dental pulp (soft living tissue inside a tooth). These stem cells can turn into bone, muscles, and repair dental cavities.
The key to this research may lie in sharks and snakes, which can replenish teeth as soon as they fall out or die. Humans have this ability only once–when transitioning from baby teeth to adult teeth. The dental lamina, a region of tissue packed with stem cells, allows for this growth but disappears shortly after all adult teeth are in. Sharks appear to never get rid of these cells.
Only time will tell if these treatments will be marketable, but for now it appears as if scientists are on the track to producing a cost-effective alternative to a temporary procedure. There are many hurdles to jump over for now, including the search for adult cells that will mimic the embryonic cell effects, but with dentists and scientists working around the clock we have hope that this treatment will be a success.