A new study has found that humans have the same cells that allow sharks to regrow their teeth, meaning that people could potentially continually replace weakened, missing or damaged teeth without a trip to the dentist.
Sharks can have up to 3,000 teeth at any one time, arranged in multiple rows. But unlike human teeth, sharks’ teeth are embedded in the gums rather than in the jaw.
The amazing dental characteristics of sharks have been discussed and documented for centuries. Back in 1840, a scientist named Owen described the shark’s dentation as “numerous teeth ever marching slowly forward in rotary progress”. Sharks lose about 30,000 of those teeth over a lifetime, but no worries – thanks to their continuous conveyor-belt of replacement teeth a lost tooth is quickly replaced. And each round of tooth replacement can be as rapid as 9 days (Nurse shark) to 38 days (Leopard shark,
“We know that sharks are fearsome predators and one of the main reasons they are so successful at hunting prey is because of their rows of backward pointing, razor-sharp teeth that regenerate rapidly throughout their lifetime, and so are replaced before decay,” Dr. Gareth Fraser, at the University of Sheffield’s Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, said in a statement.
Sharks are able to replace teeth thanks to a special set of epithelial cells known as dental lamina, according to research conducted by Fraser and other scientists at the University of Sheffield.
The Magic of Cellular Regeneration
If we have the amazing ability to regenerate teeth, then why do humans only grow two sets – baby teeth and adult teeth- per lifetime?
According to the researchers, sharks have been using their tooth-making genes consistently throughout 450 years of evolution. Humans, for reasons yet undiscovered, slacked off and let the genetic mechanisms capable of regenerating our teeth dwindle away.
We apparently still have the potential to regrow teeth, but currently those cells cease to function as we enter adolescence. It seems like a talent that it would have been very beneficial, given that only 34% of humans aged 40-64 have all of their own teeth. But we’ll just have to leave it to science to figure out why we choose not to maintain this genetic blessing.
The new discovery could enable the development of breakthrough procedures to address human tooth loss, according to Fraser.
The scientists noted that research that may lead to these new treatments will take many years, but seem quite confident that humans will be able to reclaim our ability to regenerate teeth.
“The Jaws films taught us that it’s not always safe to go into the water,” said Fraser “but this study shows that perhaps we need to go into the water in order to develop therapies that might help humans with tooth loss.”
In The Meantime
Until humans recover our tooth regenerative powers, its critically important to take care of the teeth that we have. The best way to do this is to see your dentist regularly for a checkup and professional cleaning. The checkup will help to spot and correct potential problems before they become major issues, and a professional cleaning is the only way to completely remove bacteria-rich buildups that develop on your teeth over time. No matter how well you brush and floss at home, you can’t remove hard layers of tartar from your teeth, and these deposits are the primary breeding places of the bacteria that can cause tooth decay.
Regular checkups and cleanings are often fully covered by dental insurance and dental savings plans – so the cost to you is likely to be very minimal or free. Don’t have a plan? Call us at 1-800-238-5163 to find out about affordable dental savings plans, the alternative to traditional dental insurance.