The year of 2013 may be ending, but alligators and their scary smiles could hold the secret of tooth regeneration for 2014 and beyond.
A global team of researchers believe they uncovered how these reptiles grow 2,000 to 3,000 teeth throughout their lifetimes.
Professor Cheng-Ming Chuong from the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California discovered that at the base of each alligator tooth is a microscopic pocket of stem cells that rest in a layer of tissue called lamina. This tissue is the first evidence of tooth development in both alligators and humans. The key difference: The human tissue becomes inactive after we develop adult teeth.
"Humans naturally only have two sets of teeth - baby teeth and adult teeth," Chuong told the Keck School of Medicine. "Ultimately, we want to identify stem cells that can be used as a resource to stimulate tooth renewal in adult humans who have lost teeth. But, to do that, we must first understand how they renew in other animals and why they stop in people."
Things like erosion, rotten teeth that need to be pulled - which can be a cause of halitosis - and tooth loss could potentially be fixed. Instead of dentures for the elderly, scientists might be able to re?-grow their patients' teeth. There are a lot of ifs and maybes, but the prospect remains promising.
"Stem cells divide more slowly than other cells," co-author Randall Widelitz, associate professor of pathology at the Keck School of Medicine, explained to the source. "The cells in the alligator's dental lamina behaved like we would expect stem cells to behave. In the future, we hope to isolate those cells from the dental lamina to see whether we can use them to regenerate teeth in the lab."
As far as bad breath goes, these ancient reptiles probably aren't the best creatures to ask.