Is It Possible for Humans to Regrow Teeth?
We can regrow our hair, skin, and fingernails — so why not teeth?
Other vertebrates can regenerate teeth many times over, like the alligator, who can replace each of their teeth up to 50 times. Meanwhile, we humans only get one set of baby teeth and one set of adult teeth.
Not every person loses their adult teeth when they grow older, but it’s common. Adults ages 20 to 64 have on average lost two teeth, and nearly 4% have no remaining teeth.
As you get older, you’re more likely to lose teeth, but you can lose a tooth at any age. We have to take arduous care of our teeth in order to preserve them, since losing even one tooth can have a large impact on you.
Why Do We Need to Replace Teeth?
Losing teeth is a big deal because of the detrimental health effects that can follow, not to mention how it affects your appearance. Though one missing tooth may not seem like a big deal to some people, it can have major consequences.
Some of the issues caused by tooth loss include:
- Jaw weakening — Throughout the day, your natural teeth exercise your jaw when you eat and speak. Without a tooth to do that, your jaw will weaken and become thin.
- Difficulty chewing — Your teeth are essential for eating many foods and if you’re missing teeth, you may have to avoid foods you love. Hard or chewy foods, like steak or apples, will have to be limited.
- Changed speaking — Teeth are also important in the formation of vocal sounds, so you may notice slurring or misspoken words. This can make socializing more difficult.
- Hesitation to smile — With missing teeth, the way your smile looks changes. Even if you lose a back tooth, your other teeth can shift to fill the gap and misalign your smile.
- Making you look older — A strong jawbone keeps your skin taut, helping you look younger. But when your jawbone starts to disappear, the skin over it sags, causing wrinkles and an older appearance.
For these reasons, replacing a tooth is extremely important. Current replacement options offered by dentistry are made to be functional and allow you to eat, speak, and smile without a gap. But they do have their limits.
Issues With Current Tooth Replacement Options
Dental bridges are made of a replacement tooth or teeth connected to two dental crowns, created to fit over the two teeth on either side of the gap. Bridges can allow you to eat and smile again, but they won’t help with jawbone deterioration.
That means you’ll still have a weaker jawbone and your appearance will likely change. Despite this, dental bridges are still one of the most commonly used options.
Dental implants are currently the only tooth replacement option that can prevent your jaw from weakening. Implant dentists like Dr. Brooks Larson can place a titanium fixture, which acts as the tooth’s roots by integrating into your jawbone and supporting a natural-looking crown.
The main issues with dental implants don’t have anything to do with their function, but rather the procedure. Implants are unattainable for most people due to their cost, and those with already weakened jawbones have to undergo additional procedures.
Will We Be Able to Regrow Teeth?
The best teeth we have are our natural teeth — that’s why regrowing a tooth would be the optimal solution for tooth loss. Medical science has already been developing to harness our body’s natural healing power for improved effectiveness in procedures.
Dentists like Dr. Khurrum Ashraf use PRP therapy, or platelet-rich plasma therapy, to isolate the platelets in your blood. Platelets help to prevent blood loss and promote quicker healing when placed at the site of a wound.
Regrowing an entire tooth is a large hurdle to overcome, but medical researchers are determined to find a solution that can grant humans more than two sets of teeth.
Stem cells are the key to regrowing teeth. When an alligator loses a tooth, a process kicks off that triggers stem cells to form a new tooth. The problem is, adult humans no longer have the necessary cells to do this.
That means we have to take the stem cells from somewhere else, which raises an ethical issue — human embryos are currently the only resource we know of for usable stem cells. Since this practice is against U.S. law, among other problems, researchers must find another way.
Scientists are confident that they’ll eventually find another method for regrowing human teeth. There have already been many promising studies performed that may hold the key to activating human stem cells in adults.
Tideglusib, an experimental medicine being tested to treat Alzheimer’s, has been found to stimulate the growth of stem cells in the dental pulp. The dental pulp is the heart of your tooth, containing sensitive bundles of nerves connected to the rest of your body.
Currently, these studies have only been conducted on mice, but researchers have been able to regenerate the dentin of the tooth. While enamel is the hard, white outer layer of your tooth, dentin lies directly beneath it. Dentin is softer and yellow in color, most often seen when enamel thins or deteriorates.
Regenerating dentin won’t restore an entire tooth, but it can be incredibly useful for reversing tooth decay. Rather than restoring a tooth with deep fillings or replacing them entirely, the bulk of a tooth may be able to be regrown.
Lasers have had an increasing presence in the dental office, often used to make treatment for cavities easier, help with gum disease recovery, reduce damage, and quicken healing.
Beyond these uses, scientists have found that lasers may even be able to help regenerate teeth. With a low-powered laser exposed directly to the tooth’s roots, researchers were able to stimulate the body’s own stem cells to repair dentin.
Like in the case of Tideglusib, regenerating enamel becomes tricky. Dentin makes up most of your tooth, though, so restoring it can make a big difference. Researchers are optimistic and hope that human clinical trials will be approved in the near future.
The problem with many of these regrowth treatments is that they only work on the dentin of the teeth. With the dentin restored, dentists can use tooth restoration methods to simulate enamel and protect the teeth, but being able to fully restore the enamel would be a boon.
Fortunately, scientists are working on this. In China, they’ve developed a gel made of calcium phosphate ion clusters that are normally found in teeth mixed with triethylamine that may be able to restore enamel.
Studies using this gel have been successful on extracted human teeth, so the future looks promising. The biggest issue with the gel is that the enamel it produces is much thinner than natural-grown enamel by a large margin.
Regrowing the Roots
The associate dean of research of the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC, Yang Chai, discovered a potential way to regrow tooth roots with the help of his colleagues. They found that the protein Ezh2, which helps develop the bones in the face, plays a role in growing tooth roots alongside the protein Arid1a.
Chai believes we may be able to control the genes that regulate tooth growth, allowing humans to grow more teeth or control tooth growth in people with conditions such as Gardner syndrome and cleidocranial dysplasia syndrome.
The exact details and method still have to be figured out, but Chai and his team are working on it. He believes that regenerating the root is the most important part of replacing a lost tooth. After all, it’s the roots that help keep your jawbone strong.
Regrowing an entire tooth may take a while, so placing a crown on top of the natural tooth roots is one potential option. This would enable people to keep their jawbones from deteriorating and have a natural-looking tooth.
Looking to the Future
Maybe someday, we’ll be able to grow entirely new human teeth. Until then, the best you can do is try to keep your current teeth as healthy as possible. We all know what we have to do: brush your teeth twice a day for 2 minutes, floss, use mouthwash, and visit the dentist every 6 months.
It may not be fun, but dentists like Dr. Vu Kong recommend taking proper care of your teeth — simple at-home hygiene can prevent you from ever needing to worry about tooth restorations or replacements.