Teeth don’t grow back as adults: any damage is permanent – as those of us with fillings know – so it’s important to keep them clean and healthy.
However, scientists are now looking for a way to change that.
It has been announced that clinical trials of a potential treatment to restore teeth will begin in July 2024, building on decades of research in the field. If these trials are successful, treatment drugs could be available by 2030.
A team at the Medical Research Institute at Kitano Hospital in Japan is responsible for the trials, which target people with anodontia, a rare genetic condition that prevents normal growth of deciduous and permanent teeth.
The treatment will initially target children with the condition, but in the future researchers believe it could also be used more widely – in people who have more common dental problems, such as gum disease.
“The idea of growing new teeth is every dentist’s dream,” said Katsu Takahashi, head of the Department of Dentistry and Oral Surgery at Kitano Hospital. “I’ve been working on this since I was in graduate school. I was confident that I could make it happen.”
Here’s how it works: after finding a link between a particular gene called USAG-1 and tooth growth restrictions in mice, the researchers moved on to tests that tried to block USAG-1 expression.
They found an antibody that safely blocks some of USAG-1’s activity in mice and ferrets without serious side effects, resulting in stimulation of tooth growth.
The next step is to see if the same chemical reactions can be controlled in humans.
We are talking about potential, not reality at the moment, but it is possible to use the new drug to stimulate the growth of a third generation of teeth in the mouth after milk teeth and full permanent teeth.
As the researchers point out in a recent scientific review, the advantage of this approach is that tooth growth is stimulated naturally, through a process known as bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) signaling.
Our bodies do the work on their own, without the need for complex stem cell engineering.
The team also anticipates that advances in scanning technologies (such as mass spectrometry) will make it easier to detect biomarkers that indicate the people who will most benefit from the treatment.
“Treatment with antibodies against USAG-1 in mice is effective for tooth regeneration and could be a breakthrough in the treatment of dental anomalies in humans,” the researchers wrote.