FORT LAUDERDALE - Researchers at Nova Southeastern University at the College of Dental Medicine think the future of dentistry is not so much drills and dentures, but stem cells - actually growing new teeth.
They have begun growing and harvesting such stem cells in the laboratory.
A 2009 NSU national survey of dentists revealed that more than half thought that they would be using stem cell and tissue engineering therapies on their patients within the next decade. And 96 percent thought the ability to regenerate and replace dental tissues will dominate future dentistry.
The practical application of NSU's research is for replacement teeth and dental tissues to be grown in the lab and implanted into patients. Having "real" replacement teeth will allow patients to better experience normal dental sensations. Their teeth will grow and develop, just as normal teeth.
The key to regenerating teeth - and other body tissues - is the use of adult stem cells.
The cells normally grow in flat layers of single cells in Petri dishes. To get them to form a 3-D tissue structure, researchers seed the cells on "scaffolds" made from the same polymer material as surgical sutures that dissolve harmlessly in the body.
The scaffolds provide mechanical support and control the size and shape. Once the stem cells are seeded on the scaffolds, researchers add growth factors to signal to the stem cells what type of tissue to grow.
Bingo, new teeth for transplanting.
NSU College of Dental Medicine has research grants worth $1.7 million from sources such as the National Institutes of Health to fund its dental stem cell research.
Researchers have been successful at regenerating teeth in the laboratory and in animals.