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What can sharks teach us about human teeth? Find out

Just like sharks, our teeth are designed to last a lifetime. Yet, only 34% of American humans between the ages of 40 and 64 still have all their own teeth.

Sharks, on the other hand

They can have up to 3,000 teeth at once, and, even more remarkable, they have the ability to continuously regenerate them over their lifetimes.

Shark teeth are quite different from human teeth, spread over multiple rows and embedded in the gums rather than the jaw. They can lose more than 30,000 of their teeth over their lifetimes, but regrow new ones over a period of months or even days.

Sharks have held on to their tooth-making genes since the beginning of their evolutionary history (around 450 million years ago). Those same genes are likely responsible for the development of all vertebrate teeth, from sharks to mammals, including humans.

Tooth-making genes in sharks likely evolved to trigger a regeneration process to helps them maintain hunting abilities. Our ability to “use” tooth-making genes has unfortunately faded.

A new study may bring us closer to the sharks

The genetic process that allows sharks to regrow teeth has been unclear – until now. A study lead by Dr. Gareth Fraser, Department of Animal and Plant Sciences at the University of Sheffield in the UK has identified a network of shark genes responsible for tooth development and regeneration. And the discovery might be good news for human teeth.

Humans share some shark genes

We possess the same genes that cause formation of “dental lamina.” These are the cells responsible for growth of baby and adult teeth. However, once adult teeth are fully formed, dental lamina is lost. The study findings indicate that it could be possible to trigger shark-style tooth regeneration system in humans some day soon.

Dr. Fraser explains that during adolescence, we lose the dental lamina cells because they break down. “There is a possibility we can re-invigorate them with future dental therapies,” he exclaims.

In the mean time, we need to take good care of the teeth we do have. Call for an appointment today: (847) 223-5200.

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