One expert estimates that by age 74, more than a quarter of all Americans will have lost a significant amount of their permanent teeth. While there are options to replace those teeth, what if you could grow your own? The idea of a "cloned smile" isn't that far off.
Dentures are the past, dental implants are the present -- could the future be teeth grown from stem cells?
"People really care about their teeth and they really care once those teeth are gone," said Dr. Peter Murray, endodontics professor at Nova Southeastern University.
Danka Premovic agrees. When previous dental work failed, she began wearing a mask.
"I'm a perky person. I'm a people person and for me to cover up my mouth and wear a mask, it's just not me," said Premovic.
Premovic now has eight implants. It's patients like her that dental regeneration researcher Dr. Murray wants to help.
"It would be nice to give people back their own teeth and make their whole body whole again," said Murray.
To grow teeth, researchers isolate stem cells from the mouth or bone marrow. The cells are multiplied in the lab, then grown on 3-dimensional scaffolds. Stem cells are then attached to an actual tooth.
"All the animal studies that have been done so far are very encouraging, so it looks like the clinical trials will be successful," said Murray.
The teeth can be grown in the lab and implanted in the patient or they could actually grow inside the patient's mouth, filling in empty spaces with new teeth in just a few months.
"This will be, in the future, the standard of care for dentistry, to use stem cell therapy to regrow teeth or parts of teeth," said Murray.
Dentist Sharon Siegel says there's no doubt about it.
"If they can have a part of their body replaced by a part of them, I think we're going to have a whole new era in dentistry," said Dr. Sharon Siegel, a dentist at Nova Southeastern University.
Though Danka Premovic is happy with her new implants, she says she'll be first in line when clinical trials for these begin.
Dr. Murray says growing replacement teeth from stem cells will pave the way for growing other complete replacement body parts. He says teeth are relatively safe because if a tooth fails, it can simply be extracted.