Dentures could soon be a thing of the past thanks to the development of a new type of dental implant.
The technology means people previously unable to have implants - or who could have them only after painful and lengthy surgery - can now be given "new" teeth in little more than an hour or two.
Conventional dental implants have involved placing a screw in the jaw, which is attached to a "post" with a porcelain replacement tooth.
New teeth implants can be fitted during your lunch hour - which could spell the end for dentures
Some people do not have enough bone in their jaw into which to screw this standard implant, usually because of erosion by gum disease.
For these people - around ten to 15 per cent of the over-60s - the only option has been to settle for dentures or to have a bone graft in the jaw into which the implant could be secured.
This can be a painful procedure that takes months to complete.
Although mammals have a limited capacity to regenerate teeth, mouse incisors contain stem cells and grow continuously throughout life. Using a combination of mouse mutant analyses, organ culture experiments, and gene expression studies, Xiu-Ping Wang and colleagues identify the key signaling molecules that regulate epithelial stem cell proliferation in the stem cell niche. Their work is published online this week in the open-access journal PLoS Biology.
The researchers show that signals from the adjacent mesenchymal tissue regulate epithelial stem cells and form a complex regulatory network with epithelial signals. They also show that spatial differences in the expression levels of two key genes, Activin and Follistatin, contribute to the characteristic asymmetry of rodent incisors, which are covered by enamel only on their labial (front) side. Subtle variations in this or related regulatory networks may explain the different regenerative capacities and asymmetric development of various organs and animal species.