A breakthrough by scientists could see dentures bite the dust.
Researchers have pinpointed the gene that governs the production of tooth enamel, raising the tantalising possibility of people one day growing extra teeth when needed.
At the very least, it could cut the need for painful fillings.
Experiments in mice have previously shown that the gene, a ‘transcription factor’ called Ctip2, is involved in the immune system and in the development of skin and nerves.
The latest research, from Oregon State University in the U.S., adds enamel production to the list.
The researchers made the link by studying mice genetically engineered to lack the gene.
The animals were born with rudimentary teeth which were ready to erupt but lacked a proper covering of enamel, the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports.
Researcher Dr Chrissa Kioussi said: ‘It’s not unusual for a gene to have multiple functions, but before this we didn’t know what regulated the production of tooth enamel.
‘This is the first transcription factor ever found to control the formation and maturation of ameloblasts, which are the cells that secrete enamel.’
The finding could be applied to human health and, if used in conjunction with fledgling stem cell technology, could one day allow people to grow replacement teeth when needed.
Alternatively, the knowledge could be used to strengthen existing enamel and repair damaged enamel, cutting decay and the need for fillings.
Dr Kioussi said: ‘Enamel is one of the hardest coatings found in nature.
‘A lot of work would still be needed to bring this to human applications, but it should work.
‘It could be really cool, a whole new approach to dental health.’
Researchers hope that within ten years we will be able to grow new teeth from stem cells – the so-called master cells which have the potential to be used to grow any part of the body.
Scientists have successfully harvested stem cells from dental pulp – the nerves and tissue inside the teeth – and grown teeth in the lab which have been transplanted into mice.
Other innovations on the horizon include ‘drills’ that cut and polish teeth using nothing more than a blast of air and a mouthwash that could do away with the need for fillings.
Around 11million Britons wear dentures – more than one million of them in their 30s or younger.
The NHS pays for false teeth for around 12,000 six to 24-year-olds a year.
However, the making of dentures is a dying art.
The British Society for the Study of Prosthetic Dentistry has warned that time spent teaching dental students on the ins and outs of false teeth is now being devoted to lessons on tooth whitening, orthodontics and other techniques behind the much sought-after ‘Hollywood smile’.
Eighty-five per cent of people claim to have good oral hygiene, but just two-thirds brush their teeth twice a day and nearly a third of adults have 12 or more fillings.