The choice of growing a new tooth is likely to appeal to patients. 'Anyone who has lost teeth will tell you that, given the chance, they would rather have their own teeth than false ones,' said Prof Sharpe. The average Briton over 50 has lost 12 teeth from a set of 32.
The procedure is fairly simple. Doctors take stem cells from the patient. These are unique in their ability to form any of the tissues that make up the body. By carefully nurturing the stem cells in a laboratory, scientists can nudge the cells down a path that will make them grow into a tooth. After a couple of weeks, the ball of cells, known as a bud, is ready to be implanted. Tests reveal what type of tooth - for example, a molar or an incisor - the bud will form.
Using a local anaesthetic, the tooth bud is inserted through a small incision into the gum. Within months, the cells will have matured into a fully-formed tooth, fused to the jawbone. As the tooth grows, it releases chemicals that encourage nerves and blood vessels to link up with it.
Tests have shown the technique to work in mice, where new teeth took weeks to grow. 'There's no reason why it shouldn't work in humans, the principles are the same,' said Prof Sharpe.
News you can get your teeth into!