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Bioteeth could replace dental implants

Posted by Yvonne Wallace

Scientists are a step closer to enabling the growth of bioteeth as an alternative to dental implants, which, unlike real teeth, are not able to reproduce a natural root structure.

Through the engineering of a person’s own gum cells, a ‘living’ tooth would preserve the health of the surrounding tissue much better than an artificial implant, researchers at King’s College London have found.

Natural teeth start forming in the embryo from the interaction of two types of cell – epithelial cells, that make surface lining tissue such as of the skin and gums – and mesenchymal cells, that can develop into a range of different tissues, including bone and cartilage.

In order to produce a biotooth, the team of researchers took cells from adult human gum tissue and combined them with a type of embryonic cell from a mouse, which they used to grow a real tooth.

By transplanting the combined cells into mice, researchers were able to grow a hybrid human-mouse tooth that had viable roots.

They say that using a readily available source of cells – such as the embryonic ones from mice – brings the technology one step closer to being an option for patients with missing teeth.

Study leader professor Paul Sharpe said mesenchyme cells could be found in the pulp of wisdom teeth, among other sources, but the difficulty had been in getting hold of enough of them.

“The advance here is we have identified a cell population you could envisage using in the clinic,” Professor Sharp said.

The study shows that in the lab at least, cells from adult human tissue are able to respond to the tooth-producing signals from the mouse embryonic tooth mesenchyme cells in a manner that contributes to tooth crown and root formation.

Now the next major challenge is to identify a way to culture adult human mesenchymal cells to be tooth-inducing, as at the moment researchers can only make embryonic mesenchymal cells do this.

However, it may be some years before what has been achieved in the lab is available to dental patients in their surgeries. Furthermore, while the growth of a biotooth can be done, it is an expensive process and impractical for surgeries as of yet.

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