If you accidentally burn off your eyebrows in an unfortunate birthday cake incident, or lose a toenail in a beachside adventure gone wrong, you don’t have to worry much — you can regrow your eyebrows and your toenails, and soon you’ll be good as new. But lose a tooth, and the solution isn’t quite as simple.
Unlike hair or toenails, humans are born with all of the teeth we’ll ever have — a primary set and a secondary set, more casually known as “baby teeth” and “permanent teeth.” When teeth come in, they’re not really growing; they’re simply erupting from the gums and becoming visible.
This means that if you experience secondary tooth loss, your body is not equipped to replace it, unlike alligators. Tooth loss can impact your ability to eat and talk, affect the appearance of your smile, and even put you at risk of bone loss in the jaw and damage to adjacent teeth.
Missing teeth can be artificially replaced, but they can’t be regrown. Or at least… not yet.
Researchers Successfully Regrow Mammal Tooth
Researchers at Okayama University in Japan weren’t satisfied with that answer to tooth loss, so they’ve been working to develop a technology that can allow the regrowth of complete new teeth.
The Okayama University team knew that tooth germ, the collection of cells that eventually forms a tooth, was the key. But the body’s natural immune response can put transplants from donors at risk of rejection, so the team wanted to use the subject’s own cells for the transplant. The researchers were able to extract a permanent tooth from a beagle, engineer tooth germ from the tooth’s tissue, and then implant it in the dog’s jaw. A brand new tooth was formed 180 days later.
Analysis showed that the new tooth matched the beagle’s other teeth in chemical composition and structure, and was just as functional. This is a much more promising regeneration technology than the urine-based tooth regeneration.
What Does This Mean for Human Teeth?
The implications of such research for human dentistry are difficult to overstate. While tooth germ cannot yet be obtained from most adult teeth, the wisdom teeth don’t fully mineralize until around the age of seven, making them a possible source.
But until the puzzle is solved, those of us with missing teeth remain unable to grow them back. Luckily, dental implants are nearly as good an option.
Dental implants as a technology have been practically perfected, resulting in an efficient, reliable surgery that has a strikingly low failure rate. Implants look and work exactly like real teeth, and can last decades if cared for well.
A titanium screw serves as the root, implanted directly into the jaw bone to ensure your implant is just as strong and functional as your other teeth. A ceramic crown will make up the visible part of the implant, and can be perfectly matched to your real teeth so that no one can tell the difference.