Scientists say people will soon be able to replace lost teeth by growing new ones.
A 'bud' of cells capable of growing into a new tooth will be implanted where the missing one used to be. The procedure can be performed under local anesthetic and the new tooth grows within a few months of the cells being implanted.
Professor Paul Sharpe of the Dental Institute of King's College, London, says the new procedure is superior to the current method of fixing an artificial crown to a metal post fixed to the jaw.
"The surgery can be extensive and you need to have good solid bone in the jaw and that is a major problem for some people," said Sharpe, whose new method also grows a new root for the tooth.
Stem cells taken from the patient are modified in the lab to convince them they want to grow into a tooth. After a few weeks, the cells are tested to reveal what type of tooth is developing and the required ones are selected for implant.
Lab tests have proven the technique in mice, where new teeth took a few weeks to grow. "There's no reason why it shouldn't work in humans, the principles are the same," added Sharpe.