Drugs to regrow our teeth by 2030

Scientists in Japan have already regenerated teeth in mice - now they’re working on doing the same for humans

Scientists in Japan believe they have cracked the code for regenerating teeth, which could mean the end to gaps in our smiles
Toothless happy smile of a girl with a fallen lower milk tooth close-up. Changing teeth to molars in childhood Scientists in Japan believe they have cracked the code for regenerating teeth, which could mean the end to gaps in our smiles (Ольга Симонова/Getty Images)

“Woo-woo” - the ‘Regrow Your Own Teeth’ train is out of the station and thundering down the tracks. Super-excitingly, researchers at the Medical Research Institute Kitano Hospital in Japan have announced that they have been working on a drug that has successfully regenerated teeth in mice. Now they are ready to start the next phase of trials in humans.

Remarkably, we are genetically closer to mice than we look, so the scientists set their target on our cat-fearing rodents to see if they could unlock the mystery of tooth development. It was down to a breakthrough in 2007 when the research group observed that a specific gene was involved in the process that caused extra teeth to develop in mice. They used this information to build a chemical cocktail to stimulate the growth of a brand-new tooth in a mouse.

Having grown new teeth in mice, researchers are now trying to replicate the results in humans (Adam Gault/Getty Images)

Since then, they have been working on converting this drug into a human-friendly variety. The researchers have put out a call for patients who are missing teeth from birth to take part in the trials – a fantastic opportunity, though the only catch is that you must be living in Japan.

The trials will initially focus on people affected by oligodontia, which is when 6 or more teeth are missing from birth and affects 0.1% of the population. Being born with so many missing teeth is a huge disadvantage as the jaw bones tend to be underdeveloped making the current conventional treatment of replacement with titanium implants much more challenging.

A sorrowful 12,000 teeth were extracted under the NHS between 2022 and 2023 in Northern Ireland alone. That’s a lot of unhappy gappy smiles, uncomfortable bites and many, many meals that are laborious to eat due to a lack of teeth. So, an immense number of people will benefit when scientists eventually crack the code of tooth regeneration.

The hope is that within six years, the drug would be ready to be implanted into patients’ jaw bones using traditional dentist’s injections and seeding the bone. This would be a huge leap forward in the dentist’s ability to restore patients’ smiles and chewing capacity after teeth have been lost or failed to develop in the first place.