Dentists may one day be able to replace missing teeth with ones newly grown from gum cells, say UK scientists.
The team from King's College London took cells from adult human gum tissue and combined them with another type of cell from mice to grow a tooth.
They say using a readily available source of cells pushes the technology a step nearer to being available to patients.
But it is still likely to be many years before dentists can use the method.
Other work has focused on using embryonic stem cells to create ‘bioteeth’.
It proved it could be done but is expensive and impractical for use in the clinic, the researchers said.
Transplanting the cell combination into mice, researchers were able to grow hybrid human/mouse teeth that had viable roots, they reported in the Journal of Dental Research.
Study leader Professor Paul Sharpe said mesenchyme cells could be found in the pulp of wisdom teeth, among other sources, but the difficulty had been in getting hold of enough of them.
‘This advance here is we have identified a cell population you could envisage using in the clinic. We are now working to try and identify a simple way of getting mesenchyme.’
He said: ‘The next major challenge is to identify a way to culture adult human mesenchymal cells to be tooth-inducing, as at the moment we can only make embryonic mesenchymal cells do this.’
He said the hope was that one day the technology could replace current dental implants, which cannot reproduce a natural root structure. Also friction from eating and other jaw movement can cause the bone around the implant to wear away.
'But if it's going to work it has to be about the same price as a dental implant so we have to find a way to do it that is easy and cheap.'