If only we were like sharks — or perhaps like ourselves as kindergartners. But alas, when a full grown human loses a full grown tooth there are only two options – dentures or dental implants. Until now – that is! Researchers at the Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine Laboratory at Columbia University Medical Center have pioneered a technology that may allow us to regrow our own teeth, in our own mouths, as adults. The technique involves implanting a tooth scaffolding in the mouth of a patient and redirecting stem cells in the patient’s body to regenerate the tooth right where it was in the first place.

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Currently, the process of surgically inserting dental implants in a patient’s mouth is somewhat horrifying. Dentists embed a cone shaped titanium screw directly into the jaw bone of the patient with the tooth attached on top. The process is — obviously — painful and there’s the prospect of a long or indefinite healing process. The other option is dentures, and we all know that nobody wants to take their teeth out at night. Luckily for those about to lose their teeth, the team of Columbia University researchers — led by Dr. Jeremy Mao — has successfully grown teeth in animal testing, which bodes well for future testing in people.

The scaffolding is made of all natural materials and is inserted in the dental cavity where the missing tooth once was. When the scaffolding grows, it integrates into its surroundings just as a natural tooth would, and even regrows periodontal ligaments and newly formed alveolar bone — none of which are possible with implants. This process could seriously cut down on artificial materials in people’s mouths all over the world. Imagine, instead of popping in a piece of plastic, your body could just regrow an all natural incisor for you, or even a whole smile of perfect pearly whites.

Via Science Daily