Hands-on at this exhibit
- Match the skull to the animal
- Take our tooth models apart to see inside the tooth
- Watch teeth, hair, and glands develop in a culture dish
- Get to grips with animal skulls from across the animal kingdom
We are all fascinated by teeth. Despite not being essential for life in humans, we place such an extraordinary emphasis on our teeth that we devote an entire specific area of medicine (dentistry) to the care and preservation of this one organ. Unfortunately, evolution of dentition has not caught up with the rapid changes in human diet and our increasing lifespan with the consequence that the single set of replacement teeth we develop are no longer sufficient and tooth loss is a common feature of almost all the human population. At present, lost teeth are replaced by metal implants or prostheses, but the ideal way of replacing lost teeth would be by a new natural “biological” tooth, in effect a third dentition.
Many animals are able to continuously replace their teeth throughout life using populations of stem cells residing in the jaws. Adult human teeth also contain stem cells but they are used to repair tooth damage. Discover how we are developing techniques that allow immature teeth to be grown in laboratory conditions.
Many animals are able to continuously replace their teeth throughout life. This is achieved by populations of stem cells that reside in adult jaws. Adult human teeth also contain stem cells but rather than generating new teeth, these are required to repair tooth damage. Could these human tooth stem cells be used in some way as a source of cells to generate new teeth? By combining an understanding of these different stem cell populations we are developing techniques that allow immature teeth to be grown in laboratory conditions. These can be transplanted in the mouth following tooth loss where they are able to continue their growth and development to form fully functional teeth.
The ultimate aim is to achieve a simple, safe method of biological tooth replacement that can offer an alternative to conventional dental implants.
Lead image: A frontal view of the upper jaw of a bear