Scientists Unlock the Tooth Garden

Our bodies possess remarkable natural healing capabilities. Throw in a little modern medical science and our ability to bounce back from an injury looks even better. Broken bones fuse back together. Aging eyes return to 20/20 vision. With a few snips, a doctor can even re-string a major-league pitcher's throwing arm. When it comes to our teeth, however, our options are far more limited. Lose an adult tooth and there's no growing it back.

But is there another way? According to a BBC science article, a team of U.S. scientists at Oregon State University may have discovered the key to growing new teeth in a laboratory. They successfully pinpointed a gene in mice responsible for the production of the hard, enamel coating that give our chompers their bite. In addition to playing a role in nerve and skin development, the Ctip2 gene plays a key role in the production of ameloblasts, the cells that secrete enamel.

Of course, like so many genetic discoveries, this one still has a while to go before it becomes practical. While scientists theorize that future cavities may be filled with fresh enamel and replacement teeth grown from scrap, your local dentist won't be able to grow you a new smile just yet.

If the idea of labs full of homegrown teeth sounds creepy, then you'll love where the technology was in 2002: growing teeth from stem cells on biodegradable scaffolding inserted into lab rats.

So if you ever have that nightmare where all your teeth fall out, consider replacing it with one where scientists regrow your new set in the belly of a stay-at-home tooth-farm volunteer. Hey, who said genetic science can't be helpful AND creepy?

Sink your teeth into these articles: How Gene Banks Work How Stem Cells Work Are people without wisdom teeth more highly evolved?

About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.