Good news for the dentist-averse: scientists have made another step towards creating gnashers from scratch, drawing inspiration from regenerating fish teeth.


Tooth loss in humans is a global problem: according to the World Health Organisation, 30 per cent of people worldwide over the age of 65 have lost all their teeth.

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This new breakthrough comes from a family of fish known as the Lake Malawi cichlids. These fish have a second set of jaws in their throats, which sport teeth that are replaced on a one-for-one basis every 20 to 50 days.

Researchers at King’s College London and Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, set about unravelling the mechanisms that allow cichlid fish to generate hundreds of teeth over their lives. They found that the teeth grow from the same band of tissue as developing taste buds. Substances known as ‘bone morphogenetic proteins’ (BMPs) then act on this tissue to trigger the development of dental structures.

The scientists tested this process on mouse tongues, increasing the BMP activity and finding that the mice had genetic markers in their taste buds associated with tooth development. This suggests a possible method by which human tissue might be coaxed into creating new pearly whites.

“Our results suggest that oral organs have surprising regenerative capabilities and can be manipulated to express characteristics of different tissue types,” write the researchers. “These findings indicate underappreciated … cell populations with promising potential in bioengineering and dental therapeutics.”


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James Lloyd
James LloydStaff writer, BBC Science Focus

James is staff writer at BBC Science Focus magazine. He especially enjoys writing about wellbeing and psychology.