Researchers at the Dental Institute of Kings College, London, have made some big strides toward a goal scientists have been working on for some time – growing viable human teeth in the laboratory. There’s even a name for these high-tech pearly-whites: Bioteeth.
It’s a promising development that may one day make other tooth-replacement systems obsolete… but right now, it’s a bit too early to pop the champagne.
What are bioteeth?
Essentially, bioteeth are bio-engineered replacement teeth made from the same materials that comprise natural teeth – namely dentin, enamel, and other hard tissues. What’s more, bioteeth could be produced from a person’s own tissues, thus avoiding problems with compatibility and ensuring proper integration into the jaw.
The technology for replacing the visible parts of teeth (the crowns) with porcelain, metals or ceramics has been around for quite some time. Replacing the tooth’s roots, however, has proven more challenging. Presently, dental implants are the gold standard for whole-tooth replacement. These are made with lifelike ceramic crowns and bio-compatible titanium inserts which, over time, become fused with bone cells in the jaw, and function as roots. While they are over 95 percent successful, problems with integration into the jaw are occasionally seen.
If bioteeth can be successfully developed, their roots would become integrated into the jaw bone in exactly the same way as natural teeth – and that development seems to be getting closer.
Will bioteeth one day be the tooth-replacement method of choice?
It’s entirely possible… but that day is probably some time off. Many hurdles remain, including the pace of research, the clinical approval process, and the issues of cost and acceptance. So the bottom line is: If you need tooth replacement, don’t hold your breath waiting for bioteeth. Missing teeth can cause a number of problems – including bone loss, the unwanted migration of remaining teeth, and the loss of support for facial features. And those problems are likely to get worse until the missing teeth are replaced.