Dental implants are currently the most durable, functional and aesthetically pleasing option for replacing missing teeth, but scientists hope recent research into the alligator’s ability to regenerate teeth will one day lead to the ability to regrow teeth in humans.
Gator Teeth and People Teeth: Not So Different
Through the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, a global team of researchers discovered the cellular and molecular processes that allow alligators to renew lost teeth. The findings of the research were published last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the official journal of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.
While there are obvious differences in form, alligator teeth are similar to the teeth of humans and other mammals in structure. Like human teeth, alligator teeth are rooted in the sockets of dental bone and grow through the gums, which contain a layer of tissue known as dental lamina.
Dental lamina is in part responsible for stimulating the growth of teeth. The development of dental lamina in humans typically begins in utero; dental lamina remains active as people develop their primary teeth, then shed their baby teeth for permanent teeth, after which it effectively goes dormant. In alligators, however, dental lamina remains active and allows the continuous replacement of lost teeth.
Alligators Don’t Need Dentures
The study focused on the American alligator, which may replace upward of 3,000 teeth over the course of its life.
Dental lamina is rich with stem cells, and researchers believe they identified the stem cells that promote tooth growth in alligators. The study further indicated that pulling a tooth, as opposed to replacing a tooth lost to wear, seemed to speed the regeneration process.
The research contradicts popular thought that reptiles replace their teeth on a schedule, and not because a tooth is broken or shed due to premature wear. Researchers wrote that they hope their findings will lead to further study into identifying stem cells that may be used as a resource to regrow natural teeth in people.
If you live in the Austin area and you’re seeking a beautiful, long-lasting solution for a missing tooth or missing teeth, please contact Dr. Dan Matthews online or call our dental office at 512-452-2273 to schedule your personal consultation. Dr. Matthews is proud to offer highly personalized cosmetic dentistry and restorative dentistry treatments designed to provide you with a seamless, natural-looking smile.