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Science You Can Sink Your Teeth Into

May 28, 2013
Science You Can Sink Your Teeth Into
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There's more to alligators than fancy handbags and calf-length boots. Let's talk about their chompers! 

Recent studies have discovered a unique cellular and molecular mechanism behind tooth regeneration in the American alligator.   A team of scientists led by Professor Cheng-Ming Chuong from the University of Southern California found that stem cells of alligators hold the key to human tooth regeneration.

Since alligators have 80 teeth that are replaced up to 50 times over their lifespan and their dental makeup is similar to humans, it was an easy choice to study them.  “Humans naturally only have two sets of teeth – baby teeth and adult teeth. Ultimately, we want to identify stem cells that can be used as a resource to stimulate tooth renewal in adult humans who have lost teeth. But, to do that, we must first understand how they renew in other animals and why they stop in people,” Prof. Chuong said. 

Alligator teeth have three components: a functional tooth (the one that will bite your arm off), a replacement tooth (the backup tooth to bite your leg off), and the dental lamina – all in different stages of development.  Researchers were able to conclude that the dental lamina are what appear to hold the stem cell key to regeneration.  They can isolate the cells from this component and start regenerating teeth in the lab.   

All of this is far off from being available to dentists.  Dental scientists from Columbia University and the Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine Lab are using what they learned from the alligator studies and applying that to the human mouth.  They are “orchestrat(ing) the body’s stem cells to migrate to three-dimensional scaffold that is infused with growth factor. This can yield an anatomically correct tooth in as soon as nine weeks once implanted in the mouth.”  In layman terms, they take stem cells, mix ‘em up with growth factor and the result -  new teeth. 

What all this could mean is more natural looking teeth later on in life.  Seniors may be able to look forward to not wearing unsightly and uncomfortable dentures. People who choose implants over dentures may not need a mouth full of titanium screws.  The possibilities could  be endless,  but until then dental experts advise everyone to keep brushing, flossing, visiting the dentist twice a year and eating great foods that promote oral health


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