We may not be very far away from a time when dentists offer to help people with damaged or missing teeth grow new ones, according to new research presented on Wednesday.
A series of presentations at a dental meeting demonstrate that techniques using stem cells and gene therapy to regenerate teeth are producing promising results, suggesting this technique may not be far off.
"I think it's looking like quite an exciting technology for the near future," said Dr. Tony Smith, editor of the Journal of Dental Research, who was not involved in any of the newest studies.
Smith explained that the presentations describe techniques that enable dentists to coax existing teeth into repairing and regenerating themselves, and techniques where dentists can "start from scratch."
Clearly, techniques that involve adding new tissue to already-existing teeth are "probably a bit closer on the horizon," perhaps within a "handful of years," Smith predicted. Techniques that grow teeth from scratch will likely take at least another 10 years to perfect, he added.
In some instances, researchers are trying to reprogram cells in the mouth to behave like tooth-growing cells, convincing them they have to produce new teeth, Smith explained.
Other techniques being explored involve using stem cells, which have the potential to become any type of cell or tissue. In one study being presented at the meeting, researchers successfully extracted stem cells from the pulp of adult teeth, Smith said. The next step is to examine whether it's possible to use these teeth to regenerate new dental tissue, he said.
Other research being unveiled describes tests of different approaches to select stem cells from pulp, and all shows "different degrees of success," Smith said.
These techniques may one day help people whose teeth have decayed from very bad cavities, who have lost teeth in an accident, or whose teeth have worn down from acid or hard brushing, among other conditions, he predicted.