To paraphrase Jeff Winger (played by Joel McHale) in the cult comedy series Community, what makes us human is our ability to readily sympathize with pencils, Ben Affleck, and sharks — the latter to the point of observing a phenomenon we called “shark week.” Saying nothing about the ability to feel for sharks, there is some knowledge to be gained from observing and studying them scientifically.
Unlike humans, sharks have the ability to seemingly regrow teeth multiple times whereas humans are limited to the two: baby and adult teeth. They can do this by utilizing stem cells, basic cells that can grow into any other type of cell in the body, into rows of baby teeth (read: dental stem cells) lying just inside their jaw, ready to pop up to the surface when grown teeth fall out. The good news is that science suggests we might be able to do the same with technology.
The research regarding stem cell dental implants takes a few different paths, but the general idea is the same: stem cell dental implants aim to make teeth replacement ‘more natural’ through the proper use of stem cells.
But how does it work?
The problem with Titanium teeth implants is that they’re incompatible and static. The human jaw bone is constantly growing, and an implant would need to adapt and align with it, and patients end up experiencing a complication in the long run. There’s sometimes failure and rejection when it’s incompatible to the soft tissues inside the mouth among other factors.
The reason for mentioning this is to provide context. As previously stated, stem cell research has taken a few different paths. There’s the path of using stem cells to coat Titanium implants, to reduce the risk of rejection and failure through decellularization. This method would also aim to promote healing and integration.
There’s also the path of using stem cells to grow an organic tooth, dealing with the jaw bone size by directing stem cells into colonizing a 3D scaffold or mold that already takes growth into account, with the promise of regenerating a tooth mere nine months after implantation.
What makes this idea so appealing is that it’s seemingly a natural process and it uses much of the body’s resources too, instead of foreign metal like Titanium. In addition, the tooth that’s regenerated is anatomically correct and the process itself promises a faster healing time. There is the added factor that stem cell may be used to heal teeth first before there’s a need to replace them.
Growing a body part may seem like science fiction and, honestly, that’s fair. That’s also one of the drawbacks of this project. The latest news on stem cell research is that the technology’s been patented and the scientist is looking for opportunities to commercialize, meaning it’s going to be a while yet before it’s available to the public, and possibly longer before they can afford it.