Today, dental implants are often the ideal solution for replacing missing teeth. Dental implants consist of the implants themselves, which are integrated into the jaw similar to teeth roots, and dental crowns, which are the visible part of the replacement teeth. Dental implants are custom made to fit your unique bite and to look, feel, and perform like healthy, natural teeth.
In the future, however, dentists may turn to a more innate treatment for missing teeth. Ongoing research is focusing on the use of stem cells to grow new teeth and jaw bone, and based on preliminary findings the process could prove a better solution than dentures or even dental implants.
The Cusp of Growing New Teeth
Researchers at the Tufts University School of Dental medicine are currently refining methods for growing healthy new teeth and bone from dental stem cells. Their work is focusing in part on a type of cell that can be coaxed into different types of oral tissue, including teeth and jaw bone.
Stem cells are taken from adult tooth pulp, then isolated and transformed into teeth buds, the tiny tissue clusters that can eventually grow into a full, natural tooth. Early trials in animals have shown promise, although researchers acknowledge practical applications in people are years away.
The treatment may eventually prove advantageous compared to existing solutions for missing teeth. Researchers speculate that new natural teeth would be stronger and more comfortable than dentures, and provide a durable natural alternative to dental implants.
The process may also hold applications for other cosmetic dentistry and restorative dentistry procedures, such as full mouth reconstruction.
The idea of using stem cells to generate new teeth is not new. Scientists began attempting to grow new teeth from stem cells in the early 2000s.
Last year, researchers at the University of Southern California took a major step toward natural tooth restorations with their examination of dental stem cells in rodents, which continuously regenerate their incisor teeth structure (this is how they’re able to gnaw through pretty much anything). Humans have similar cells in our molars, but they become dormant after the crowns form. Scientists are now studying whether there are ways to reactivate those cells.
Another avenue of exploration in the field of teeth growth is the shark. Sharks are able to regrow entire sets of teeth throughout their lives, and researchers at The University of Sheffield in England recently identified the network of genes that allows them to do so. It turns out that humans share the same group of specialized cells, but we lose them after our permanent teeth replace our baby teeth.
Why Replace Missing Teeth?
The American Academy of Periodontology notes a number of consequences of missing teeth, and they are not limited to the aesthetics of your smile. Choosing not to replace missing teeth can allow your remaining natural teeth to shift, butting against each other in some cases or leaving gaps in others that allow food particles to accumulate and plaque to grow.
Missing teeth can also lead to premature wear and damage to surrounding natural teeth. This can further increase the risk of problems like tooth decay and gum disease.
To learn more about your options for replacing missing teeth, or to schedule your appointment with Dr. Hodges, please call élan by Dr. Meghan Hodges at