Crocodile Smiles, Alligator Lamina, and Your Teeth

General dentist in Polk City IAAs humans, we like to believe that we’re superior to animals, but we can’t help but admire the impressive teeth of the fearsome alligator. Compared to our 32 adult teeth, the average alligator boasts up to 50 teeth at once. Dr. Ryan Hussong, a general dentist in Polk City IA, offers an intriguing tidbit from the world of dental research. The facts become even more interesting when one considers that more than two-thirds of all adults will lose a tooth in their lifetime.

Alligator Teeth Are Similar To Human Teeth

Our teeth bear surprising similarities to those of an alligator. Gators’ teeth, like our own, are arranged just so in their mouth, where each one serves a specific function. For example, our molars chew and grind food, while we use our incisors to bite food. Humans’ and alligators’ teeth are firmly planted in bony sockets, which hold them in place and provide support.

…With One Really Cool Difference

As humans our teeth have two parts, which we call “working” or adult teeth, and dental lamina. Dental researchers attribute tooth regeneration to dental lamina. The lamina contains stem cells, which stimulate growth. For reasons not yet known, we have one shot at regenerating our teeth. Our baby teeth fall out and are replaced by our adult teeth. If we lose an adult tooth to injury or tooth decay, we won’t be seeing a new tooth in its place. Why not? The jury’s still out, but researchers have some interesting new leads.

Here’s the part where the alligator wins every time. While human teeth have only two phases, alligator teeth have an additional phase. In addition to a working tooth and the dental lamina tissue, gators also have a substitute tooth for each working tooth. If an alligator loses a tooth during feeding or fighting, the substitute tooth serves as a replacement until the lamina can generate a new working tooth. What happens if the substitute tooth is lost? The gator grows another tooth, and he can do so as many as 50 times over the course of his 30-50 year lifespan! This creates the potential for regenerating thousands of teeth.

What Does This Mean for Human Teeth?

As of yet, we haven’t quite determined why humans’ dental lamina gives out after a single regeneration. This perplexing question drives medical researchers to study alligators in the hopes of determining the specific growth trigger in alligator lamina. When an adult loses one or more teeth, the effects on his or her life can be severe. Remaining teeth become more prone to breakage, while eating and speaking may be affected. Many adults who lose teeth cannot afford replacements, and as a result they experience embarrassment about their appearance. Scientists believe they are now one step closer to isolating the biological triggers that induce lamina growth in gators. Today, their efforts focus on a “promising protein compound,” which could ultimately lead to the secret of replacing adult teeth in humans

Worried About Tooth Loss? Gum disease and tooth loss affect people of all ages. With regular cleanings and a sound oral hygiene regimen, many of our patients can avoid losing adult teeth. Call our Polk City dentist office at 515-984-6001 to schedule an appointment or request more information. We serve families living in and around Ankeny, Grimes, Ames, Johnston, Urbandale, and Des Moines.