For most people, a toothache is one of their most dreaded feelings. The thought of going to the dentist can send you through a wave of emotions that can end up with you avoiding your appointment altogether. When left unattended, teeth problems can only get worse. Eventually, you may have to replace a lost tooth.
Traditionally, dentists use dentures and dental bridges to replace diseased teeth. One of the biggest dental innovations of the late 20th century is dental implants, which is the replacement of teeth with space-age metal. But new advances in stem cell research promises a future where tooth replacement even better.
Stem Cells for Natural Tooth Replacement
Humans only have two sets of teeth over their lifetime. Deciduous or baby teeth are lost by the time a person is 12 or 13 years old, and are then replaced by adult teeth, which is the second and last set of teeth. Other species have unlimited teeth in their lifetimes. For instance, a shark can replace their teeth in just a few weeks – a proof of nature’s ability to grow new teeth even in adulthood.
Studies have looked into this lead and have thought about using stem cells to grow new teeth in an adult human. After all, nature has advantages over dental implants. Because of complexity and cost, the latter is not a common dental procedure. With stem cells, humans can have a more accessible and affordable way to replace lost teeth.
What are Dental Implant Stem Cells?
The body has many kinds of cells. At birth, these cells that create all the various organs and systems of the body is possible because of the stem cells. Stem cells are undifferentiated cells that can change to every cell in the body. They are found in almost all body tissues, helping create and replenish the body, but are usually buried in hard to locate areas.
Scientists discovered that teeth hold stem cells, both baby and adult teeth, and have the complete ability to replicate themselves. Because of their compatibility with the human immune system, dental stem cells can be applied in medical science fields. Studies are showing promise on tooth implantation with dental stem cells.
Scientists are Growing Teeth in Animal Models
There has been progress in using stem cells in animal studies. Scientists were actually able to grow teeth at London’s King’s College while seeking out blood supply from surrounding tissue. Other studies have had teeth successfully implanted into rats. A low-power laser was used to activate the stem cells to regrow the tooth structure.
At Columbia University, researchers were able to guide stem cells to make a three-dimensional scaffold. This led to the creation of a complete tooth in about nine weeks. One thing that is left is to reproduce these results in humans. Although the human dentin is very similar to that of the rats, it is not exactly the same.
Taking Small Steps in Stem Cell Dental Implants
Perhaps the biggest challenge when it comes to dental stem cells is reproducing human clinical outcomes that are reliable. Rather than replacing the whole teeth, stem cells can instead help heal teeth temporarily. For instance, in cases of tooth decay, stem cells can help heal a cavity before going through root canal therapy.
The only thing that is certain is the human teeth contain stem cells. So rather than throwing an extracted tooth, it might possibly be used to extract cells to replenish a tooth in the future. Many people cryopreserve their cells, which can become standard for stem cells in the teeth, and then be used to fix smiles in the future.