With New Treatment, Regrowing Teeth Is One Step Closer to Becoming Reality

A new treatment is focused on people who can’t develop a full set of teeth, but it could also help many more with dental problems.

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Pablo Martínez-Juarez

It’s a widely known fact that some sharks can regenerate their lost teeth to maintain their dental health. What if humans could do the same? With recent advances, it looks like this possibility may not be too far-fetched.

Clinical trials. According to local news reports, clinical trials for a new drug designed to stimulate the regeneration of lost teeth are set to begin at Kyoto University Hospital in Japan later this year. The initial phase of these trials will focus on establishing the safety of the treatment.

A third set of teeth. Humans have two sets of teeth. The first set is called the deciduous, or primary teeth, and consists of the baby teeth that people usually have during their first years of life. We lose these teeth naturally, and they’re gradually replaced by the so-called permanent (or secondary) set of teeth.

After that, there are no replacement teeth, except in some rare cases of hyperdontia, in which “supernumerary teeth” appear. Notably, these extra teeth don't function as replacements. They can also disrupt the proper development of our permanent teeth.

Unlike sharks, the new Japanese treatment doesn’t promise to generate an unlimited number of teeth, but it could provide us with a third set of spare teeth.

Anodontia and other problems. However, the primary focus of the new treatment isn’t just to provide replacement teeth, but to assist individuals, particularly children, dealing with anodontia. Anodontia is a condition that prevents some individuals from developing complete sets of teeth, not due to tooth loss, but because they never developed teeth in the first place.

The Kyoto University Hospital team believes that the treatment can eventually be extended to individuals who have lost teeth due to other issues like gum disease or other common dental problems.

USAG-1. USAG-1 is the key gene for this significant treatment breakthrough. Researchers have discovered a connection between this gene and dental development limits in mice.

They successfully stimulated the growth of new teeth by using an antibody to block the expression of USAG-1 in mice and ferrets. Their findings were presented in a 2021 article in Scientific Reports.

The next step for the researchers is to explore the potential application of this discovery in humans.

A long journey. Reaching the clinical trial phase is a significant step in the development of any medical treatment. As it happens, many promising drugs don’t make it past the lab stage.

During clinical trials, the treatment is tested on human participants. In the initial phase, a small group is used to test out the treatment’s safety and effectiveness. If the treatment proves to be safe, researchers move on to a second phase with more participants to assess its effectiveness, while also monitoring people for possible side effects.

If the treatment continues to show promise, it undergoes a third or even a fourth round of trials to evaluate aspects such as efficiency and dosing. After this long journey, and if it's successful, the treatment could potentially become available around 2030.

Image | Enis Yavuz via Unsplash

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