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With advancements in genetic research, namely the Human Genome Project, dentistry is expected to change dramatically in the future. In fact, these advancements in genetic research include the ability to one day grow teeth, engineer salivary gland tissues and conduct gene therapy to reduce periodontal (gum) disease.
The implications of DNA mapping for dentistry are profound. "The same technology used to map the human genome is being used to map the genomes of major pathogens," says Max Anderson, DDS. Specifically this research would help erase pathogens that cause cavities and periodontal (gum) disease, in addition to development of designer drugs to either prevent or treat these problems.
Dentistry's future will include the ability to customize patient treatment according to each patient's genetic profile. In fact, Dr. Anderson predicts that dentists of the future may practice only cosmetic-and trauma-related dentistry.
Additionally, scientists are working on the future by finding genes critical for tooth development. "You can actually grow a mouse tooth in a culture dish," says Rene D'Souza, DDS, department of orthodontics, University of Texas-Houston Dental Branch. Scientists remove tooth tissues from a mouse embryo, add the genes necessary for tooth development to the culture dish and create mouse dentition.
"The hope is that if we can advance fast enough with human genetics that we will be able to bioengineer human teeth for replacement," says Dr. D'Souza.
Gene therapy is a new approach to treat, cure and ultimately prevent disease by changing a person's genes. It introduces a normal gene into a cell in which the gene is defective. Other advances in gene therapy expected to affect dentistry are tissue engineering of salivary gland function. This would be important to patients with dry mouth and those who have experienced irreversible salivary gland damage due to radiation treatment for head and neck cancer.
Reviewed: January 2012
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