Recent studies on the genetic properties of shark teeth have revealed interesting news for dentists everywhere. Scientists have known for years that sharks and some other fish species grow new teeth continuously, losing the outermost rows over time and replacing them with new ones. However, until recently it was unclear which genetic markers made this possible.
Dr. Gareth Fraser at the University of Sheffield has narrowed down the research and determined that there are a specific set of regenerative tooth genes and lamina cells that control how and when animals regrow teeth. In sharks, these genes stay active throughout their entire life span, allowing them to regrow teeth continuously regardless of age. In humans, these same genes exist and allow us to develop what we call “baby teeth” and “adult teeth.”
This research may open up the possibility for new human dental treatments in the future to help people who have experienced significant tooth decay. Scientists are looking into the possibilities of reactivating these genes in adults to allow them to regrow teeth without the need for more invasive surgeries.
While these treatments may be a long way off, Dr. Fraser and his team have identified roughly four hundred types of cells that interact in the tooth growing process to generate new teeth. The key to making this treatment a reality will be controlling when those genes become active, where those cells are redeployed, and how to keep them around when they are inactive.
Currently, it appears that the lamina cells break down and disappear in adolescence, so scientists will have to find ways to reintroduce them or stop them from breaking down in the first place. On the other hand, there have been several known cases where patients have continued to grow teeth for years, sometimes ending up with an extra full set of teeth that needs to be removed surgically. For this reason, it is imperative that dentists be able to specifically control the “on-and-off switch” for these cells to stop them from growing too many teeth, which can be equally problematic as not enough teeth.
The dental community seems poised for a major breakthrough that could help treat patients with degenerative gum diseases and other dental decay issues. Even if it is not possible to completely regrow a new set of teeth for most people, this treatment method may be useful for slowing or even reversing some damage that has already occurred.
Until scientists nail down the specifics for how to regrow teeth, it is vitally important to take good care of your teeth. Gables Sedation & Family Dentistry provides high-quality sedation dental procedures and general dental care in the Miami, FL area. For more information or to schedule your next appointment, visit us online or call today at (786) 904-8003.