Using Japanese puffer-fish as a template, scientists at Sheffield University are hoping to discover a way of renewing human teeth over an average lifespan, to give people who have suffered tooth loss a natural alternative to dentures or bridges. Puffer-fish have a beak with four teeth that are constantly renewed every few weeks, and researchers are investigating the chemical process in the hopes that something similar can be artificially developed for humans – who, like most mammals, only have two sets of teeth during their lifetime.
Dr Gareth Fraser from the University’s Department of Animal and Plant Sciences spoke about what first drew him to the puffer-fish as an example of renewable teeth; ‘When I saw this beak I thought it was really weird. We quickly realised it is a very interesting structure which developed as a result of tooth replacement… this fish could give us a clue as to how it grows its teeth so humans no longer have to rely on dentures or implants. Wisdom teeth have already shown that late growth is possible.’
Dr Fraser went on to talk about the structure of the beak, saying that it was made out of dentine bands stacked together, each one representing a replacement tooth that would grow in the future. ‘It is an example of re-specification of its genetic tool-kit for tooth development toward a very alternatives, and unique, dentition.’