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Fascinating Dental Discoveries


Thanks to technological advances and research, we learn more about teeth and oral health every year. From surprising details about our ancient ancestors to technology futuristic enough to nearly be sci-fi, recent oral health discoveries are truly amazing.

Neolithic Era dentists were hard to come by

As if being a Neolithic shepherd didn’t come with enough problems, recent research on Otzi, the famously preserved ice mummy from about 3300 B.C., shows that he suffered from serious periodontal disease and tooth decay. The decay is attributed to the rise of agriculture during this time period: Otzi was likely eating more starchy foods like porridge and bread. Though the mummy is thousands of years old, it’s evident that he also suffered some trauma to a front tooth and chipped a molar.

Want to prevent cavities? Reach for some cheese!

Most dairy products contain calcium, which helps build strong bones and teeth. But eating cheese, specifically, can also increase saliva production and raise pH levels in the mouth enough to help “rinse” teeth and rid them of excess acids and bacteria. All it takes to get your saliva flowing is a one-third ounce serving. Try a non-fat or low-fat cheese variety to gain saliva benefits without the extra calories.

Alligators may hold the secret to teeth regeneration

We may be able to learn something from alligators’ famously scary smiles. These reptiles grow 2,000 to 3,000 teeth throughout a lifetime, and scientists think they’ve figured out how. At the base of each alligator tooth is a tiny pocket of stem cells that sit in a layer of tissue called lamina tissue. Humans have this tissue too, but it becomes inactive after we develop adult teeth. If scientists can figure out how alligators’ lamina tissue stays active, they may someday be able to replicate this process for human tooth regeneration.

Bioteeth just around the corner?

If the alligator tooth studies don’t work out, there may be bioteeth. Experts have been able to help mice create new teeth by implanting a combination of cells into their mouths. Mice have successfully grown enamel, the hard outer coating of the tooth; dentin, the hard inner layer; and even tooth roots. However, don’t stop taking great care of your existing teeth just yet. Scientists say that application in humans is still years away.

Dental impressions go digital

Thanks to new digital technology, biting into a dental mold may be a thing of the past. A new impression system captures more than 3,000 3-D images per second, then combines them to create a perfect, customized mouth impression. Though the technology isn’t widespread yet, we’ll keep our fingers crossed that dentists’ familiar “tray of goop” will soon be a thing of the past.

You won’t regret this tattoo

Researchers at Princeton University are working on a technology that “tattoos” a tiny sensor onto tooth enamel. The sensor is able to monitor bacteria types and levels in the mouth and can alert dentists when levels get too high. By detecting abnormal levels or types of bacteria or viruses in early stages, saliva sensors may be able to help dentists and doctors uncover medical problems such as gum disease, stomach ulcers and even AIDS.

What new oral health research and technologies are coming our way? It’s hard to say – but while we wait, daily flossing and basic brushing with fluoride toothpaste remain tried and true techniques to maintain good oral health for years to come.

Last updated: November 2013

The oral health information on this website is intended for educational purposes only. You should always consult a licensed dentist or other qualified health care professional for any questions concerning your oral health.