When the gator loses a tooth, certain types of proteins are released that activate these stem cells. The proteins quickly go into action, initiating growth of a new tooth. This happened even when researchers pulled out alligator teeth.
By identifying the individual types of "activator" proteins and the stem cells, the scientists can likely apply the tooth renewal process to humans with missing teeth.
As Chuong and colleagues wrote, "Based on our study, it may be possible to identify the regulatory network for tooth cycling. This knowledge will enable us to either arouse latent stem cells in the human dental lamina remnant to restart a normal renewal process in adults who have lost teeth or stop uncontrolled tooth generation in patients with supernumerary teeth."
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Clinical trials on humans are underway, after researchers successfully caused teeth to regrow in mice and monkeys.
As for stopping uncontrolled tooth generation, this refers to a condition known as hyperdontia - which basically means that the person has more teeth than they should. This might seem like a problem we'd all want to have, but people with the condition can suffer from dental problems, jaw pain, headaches and other troubles tied to the extra teeth.