Regrowth of teeth possible, scientists say
Technology using stem cells just years away, according to British researchers
Tuesday, May 4, 2004 - Page A10
British scientists say there may be new hope for adults who lose their teeth -- the possibility of growing replacement teeth out of stem cells.
Reports from Britain yesterday say that scientists at the Dental Institute of King's College in London have successfully used the procedure in experiments with mice.
"There's no reason why it shouldn't work in humans, the principles are the same," Professor Paul Sharpe told The Guardian newspaper.
The specialist in regenerative dentistry said the procedure would be appreciated by anyone who has had to resort to false teeth, and the cost would not be much different.
"Anyone who has lost teeth will tell you that, given the chance, they would rather have their own teeth than false ones," he said.
The scientists have been awarded the equivalent of $1.2-million Canadian in research funding to set up a company, Odontis, that would develop the use of the procedure on humans.
Prof. Sharpe said the technology may be just a few short years away from becoming a reality.
Stem cells -- the so-called master cells of the body -- eventually turn into many different kinds of other cells, including specialized cells that make up the muscles and organs.
In the procedures, small balls of stem cells programmed to turn into teeth would be implanted into gaps in a person's mouth. It is estimated they would take up to two months to grow into a full tooth.
"A key advantage of our technology is that a living tooth can preserve the health of the surrounding tissues much better than artificial prosthesis," Prof. Sharpe told the BBC.
"Teeth are living, and they are able to respond to a person's bite. They move and in doing so they maintain the health of the surrounding gums and teeth."
Prof. Sharpe told The Guardian that the new procedure would have a distinct advantage over false teeth that require a metal post to be driven into the jaw before being capped with porcelain or plastic.
"The surgery today can be extensive and you need to have good solid bone in the jaw and that is a major problem for some people," he said.
The method could be used on far more patients because the ball of cells that grows into a tooth also produces bone that anchors to the jaw.
The BBC and Guardian both pointed out that the average Briton over 50 has lost 12 teeth from a set of 32.
In the procedure, doctors would take stem cells from the patient, nurture them in a lab to become teeth, and implant a "bud" of cells into the person's mouth through a small incision in the gum. The growth of the tooth would encourage surrounding tissue to join it.
Some reports pointed out that such a procedure has never been successfully tried on humans and may take years to fine tune.
A spokesman for the British Dental Association said it "welcomes projects like Odontis and looks forward to seeing further progress in this field."