AN ALLIGATOR HAS 80+ TEETH that can each be replaced up to 50 times during its life! Potentially, that’s thousands of teeth! You may be thinking, “Wow, that’s cool… But why are we talking about alligator teeth on this human dental blog?” Well, alligators may be helping scientists learn how to stimulate tooth renewal in humans.
Like humans, alligators have well organized teeth, with different functions, fixed in bony sockets. Research shows that there are three parts (or phases) to each alligator tooth—a working tooth, a substitute tooth (ready to replace the working tooth should it be lost), and the dental lamina (a band of tissue that is the apparent hub for new teeth development).
Humans are similar, with one big difference. We have adult teeth (these are our “working teeth”) and we have dental lamina. What we don’t have are substitute teeth. While most vertebrates can replace teeth until the day they die, human teeth replace themselves only once. The million dollar question is, why do replacement teeth stop growing after our first adult set?
Researchers believe that the dental lamina is the source of tooth regeneration. Stem cells in the lamina stimulate growth. For some reason our lamina turns off when adult teeth arrive.
Researchers are working to isolate the exact lamina growth triggers in alligators so that perhaps they can duplicate them in humans. They believe they’ve found a “promising protein compound” but still have a lot of work to do to create the proper elemental combination.
The idea of human tooth regeneration is exciting (that’s why we brought it up!), but it isn’t right around the corner. So, in the meantime, continue taking great care of the teeth you have!