It could one day be possible for humans to grow new teeth thanks to research being carried out at the University of Otago.
Researcher Dr Azam Ali's "No drill, no fill" project aims to develop a biometric system that could potentially trigger remineralisation and regrowth of dental tissues.
He aimed to create new treatment options for the prevention and restoration of tooth decay, a major public health concern nationally and internationally.
"We are planning to develop biomaterials which will be very, very compatible with dental tissue and offer a biological function," he said.
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"The biomaterials will mimic the cells and regenerate and produce new dental tissue."
Ali's team, which includes collaborator Professor Karl Lyons, will combine biomaterials like collagen with bioceramics, consisting largely of calcium phosphate.
The biomaterials would mimic the cells while the bioceramics would make the compound hard.
Initially the aim was to use the material to fill holes in the way fillings are now carried out but eventually there was potential to grow whole teeth, Ali believed.
He said his team had seen good preliminary outcomes with regenerating soft tissue so were confident it could be done.
Health Minister Jonathan Coleman has welcomed the study, one of 11 groundbreaking projects that have won $1.65 million in explorer grants from the Health Research Council.
"Developing a technique to regrow teeth, for example, is an extraordinary concept and offers huge potential for people suffering dental health problems," Dr Coleman said.
"The Government supports research that leads to improved health outcomes and more effective delivery of healthcare for New Zealanders."
The HRC explorer grants announced today also support other projects such as creating 3D bioprinted vascularised skin, developing a faster way for doctors to detect antibiotic resistance and exploring female infertility.