How to keep your own teeth

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The Independent Online
Scientists have discovered a way to prevent your teeth falling out with age by using a substance that will turn muscle into bone. Clinical trials on humans are expected to begin in about three years, following success in research done with baboons.

Professor Hari Reddi from Johns Hopkins University told the meeting of the AAAS in Baltimore that he believes the technique will be applicable to the problems attendant on human ageing - in particular, periodontal diseases where the connective tissues which support the teeth weaken and teeth, which may themselves be healthy and undecayed, fall out.

The researchers surgically removed bone and gum tissue from around the teeth of 12 baboons and filled the openings with substances known as "bone morphogenic proteins" (BMPs). These BMPs are a family of proteins which promote bone growth with collagen, the body's main structural protein and a key part of bones and connective tissues. They found that the BMPs not only caused new growth in the jawbones, but regenerated ligaments and cementum, the connective tissue that covers the roots of teeth and attaches them to the jawbone.

The results exceeded the researchers' expectations. They had gone no further than hoping for some bone regrowth, but BMPs - in particular, osteogenin, which Professor Reddi and his colleagues isolated and purified in 1980 - can turn soft muscle tissue into bones.

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