Pufferfish Beaks and Baby Teeth: The Strange Connection

pufferfish photo
Photo by billautomata

Here’s a fun science question: what does a puffer fish have in common with a person’s mouth?

According to a recent study published by the University of Sheffield, a surprising amount. The study, written by researchers from the University of London and the University of Tokyo, found that puffer fish use the same genetic programming as a number of other vertebrates–humans included–to generate teeth.

Puffer fish Beaks and Dental Regeneration Potential

“All vertebrates have some form of dental regeneration potential,” says the study. One of the differences between the two forms of dental regeneration, though, is the specific morphology of the mouth of the puffer fish– which is to say, the shape the fish’s mouth takes. In puffer fish, the genes that generate teeth are aligned in ‘tooth-bands,’ which produce successive layers of hard enamel that eventually become the beaks that puffer fish use to eat difficult-to-manage prey. Instead of losing the teeth these bands produce (as would happen in many other vertebrates) the successive layers fuse, and continue to grow as the fish ages.

There are a couple of notable differences between the puffer fish and human mouths, here. First, we don’t have beaks. Second, we only get one new set of teeth per mouth, as our baby teeth fall out and our adult teeth grow in. So why look at puffer fish dentology at all?

Tooth regeneration is widely considered to be a ‘holy grail’ of dentistry. If we had an easy, safe way to regrow teeth in the human mouth, then a whole range of issues in the field of dental health would be solved. Not to overstate the importance of such a development, but every advancement we can get in the area of tooth regeneration is something that has us pretty excited. So, finding an animal that both regrows teeth and shares similar genetic instructions with a huge range of other vertebrates is genuinely exciting!

What puffer fish dentology has to do with your missing teeth

“The fact that all vertebrates regenerate their teeth in the same way with a set of conserved stem cells means that we can use these studies in more obscure fishes to provide clues to how we can address questions of tooth loss in humans,” said Dr. Fraser, one of the authors of the study. And, while there is still a long time to go before we can integrate these findings into the field of dentistry, the findings of this study are still exciting!

If you’re waiting for replacement teeth, you still may be waiting for a while. But don’t worry– in the meantime, we’ve been hard at work making a whole range of other options for you! If you are in need of cosmetic dental work, don’t hesitate to contact Dr. Matthews’ office. If you’re in the Austin area, schedule an appointment! We’re happy to find solutions to whichever dental problem you may have.

Dan Matthews DDS
Dan Matthews Dan Matthews DDS The Park at Eanes Creek,
4407 Bee Cave Road
Building 2, Suite 221
Austin, Texas, 78746
(512) 452-2273
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