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Better Dentition

Suggestions for improving human teeth
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Humans are evolved from ape-like creatures that had "extended" faces, with muzzle-like mouths. There were 32 teeth in those mouths, and there still are, today, even though our faces are much flatter these days. Almost everyone has to have the 4 "wisdom teeth" removed, because they simply don't fit very well in today's human mouth. Why not extract them at the source, in the genetic machinery that specifies 32 teeth, and change the number to 28?

Growing new teeth to replace old is another idea that I've independently dreamed up. There could be two variations on this theme, and I think that BOTH would be best. First, consider the incisors of a rat: They grow constantly! Unlike other teeth, they don't grow to a fixed size and stop, they keep growing, partly to match the constant wear-and-tear of all the gnawing that rats indulge in. (Two-edged sword, though, rats HAVE to constantly gnaw to keep their incisors from growing too long to be useful!) If we could get the timing right, I'd suggest having ALL human teeth grow slowly, to match normal human wear-and-tear. But, if one gets knocked out in an accident, THEN I'd want a new replacement tooth to grow! I I need to acknowledge that others have also thought about getting human teeth to become more replaceable, and to grow at a rate that matches wear-and-tear. Further, it has been noted that other animals, such as horses, do have a pretty good match, and that human teeth can indeed grow to some minor extent. (That last is cool! It merely means existing genetic machinery only needs to be tweaked.)

El Pedanto suggested that teeth be modified so that they CAN'T decay, but I think that this poses a fundamental sort of problem: Any substance that can be organically accumulated (such as silica by diatoms), can also be organically broken down (decayed, in other word). Since the human body is indeed organic, getting it to grow teeth that CANNOT decay is a major challenge. Which is one reason why I recommend the constant slow growth mentioned above.

Finally, there is an aesthetic issue regarding the shape of the human face. For OTHER genetic improvements (such as improved smell), we might want those old muzzles back. If we decide that muzzles are good, just to get the room for the extra smell sensors, then we might as well keep the 32 teeth, and maybe even go for 36 or 40 teeth! Such trade-offs are inherently problematic, and I leave this one to the cultural tastes of the future (I suspect the Orientals, being the most "muzzleless" of human breeds, will NEVER accept such a notion).

Vernon, Aug 16 2001

Genetic Engineering Idea Moratorium http://www.halfbake...20Idea_20Moratorium
Speaks for itself [-alx, Aug 16 2001, last modified Oct 04 2004]


-alx, Aug 16 2001

       It would be better if there were some attempt at outlining a mechanism for making these changes. I know someone whose wife and daughter both produced a complete third set of teeth (I think perhaps in their late teens or early twenties), so it's certainly not impossible to replace teeth later in life. You could probably take samples from the developing tooth buds of such people, extract mRNA, look for particular genes which have turned on since the new teeth started to develop, and thereby provide yourself with a list of candidate genes that control the condition. Then I suppose it's on to transgenic mouse studies until the gene(s) responsible is identified. Then you could probably quite simply inject the mRNA for the human gene into the gums of people who wanted new teeth. Ok, so it's pie in the sky at the moment, but give a driven researcher a few million dollars, and I'm sure you'd get somewhere within a decade.
Trouvere, Aug 16 2001

       You may call it WIBNI as you like. However, do note that a whole lotta people out there have religious convictions that will place them squarely against ANY kind of improvements to humanity. "Playing God", they call it -- or worse. (Larry Niven once wrote a one-sentence science fiction story that goes like this: "There were some things that Man was not meant to know.")   

       Well, how do we fight such superstition? By clearly describing things that are obviously beneficial, and will be desirable to greater numbers people than can be mustered by the fear-mongers. Once upon a time, lots of people thought that to want to fly was to defy God. Nowadays it is safer than driving your car.
Vernon, Aug 16 2001

       I think you'd have a hell of a job convincing these 'superstitious' types that having renewable teeth is worth meddling with our genome for. It's hardly a cure for cancer now is it?
-alx, Aug 16 2001

       Living in the South, it's been my experience that people who are superstitious about their religion are often short in the dental department...   

       Doesn't save this from being an enormous 'Wouldn't it be neat if'.
StarChaser, Aug 16 2001

       So what you're saying is, if we sent nanobots back in time to when we were conceived, and altered our own original genome to give us better teeth, we'd have this problem cracked?   

       I can't see why that hasn't been done already.
-alx, Aug 17 2001

       waugsqueke, the connection you are missing is this: "Wouldn't it be neat/nice if" is a superior way to think about an idea than "Don't you dare want something different!".   

       Genetic engineering TODAY is in its infancy, and that WILL change with time. Do you want to be programmed by the superstition-mongers to be afraid of ALL consequences, or do you want to dream of better things, carefully including appropriate caution?   

       Most individual humans will claim a right to do what they wish to their own bodies, be it tattoos or tongue-piercing or stoned-on-drugs (including alcohol and nicotine). I think that this principle applies to the human species as a whole. Hopefully, we will use that right wisely. Certainly, WIBNI or not, the possibilities need to be discussed without rancor. And remember, a REAL "WIBNI" is something we'll NEVER be able to actually do. Labelling something a WIBNI too quickly is actually a disservice, because it discourages more-complete thoughts associated with the idea. (We're supposed to be discussing teeth here, right?)
Vernon, Aug 17 2001

       Vernon, while I agree with you wholeheartedly that we shouldn't allow the conservative attitudes of others hold back scientific progress, you still haven't addressed the issue that this is a WIBNI.   

       You disclaim the 'superstitious' beliefs of others, yet at the same time worship science as some kind of religion, using progress from some undetermined future date as a magic wand to solve all manner of problems.
-alx, Aug 17 2001

       waugsqueke, I tend to think we're running into a fundamental truth about the HalfBakery. An idea that can be fully described isn't really half-baked, is it? And when it is fully described (as I've tried to do on a few occasions), there are things such as patentability issues to consider. You are asking for so much info about how something could be done, that somebody would be able to take it to the Patent Office. Do you have any doubts that when somebody discovers just how to re-activate existing genes, to cause a new set of teeth to grow, that that procedure WON'T get patented?
Vernon, Aug 17 2001

       waugsqueke, we do know enough general principles, regarding genetic processes, that most of the remaining gaps/work is in the category of filling in the details. See my post about Telomerase Production Hormone. (UnaBubba, it's somewhat less than 15,000 words long.)
Vernon, Aug 17 2001

       Oh lord, I'm going home.
-alx, Aug 17 2001

       any teeth at all - all we use them for is cellotape
po, Sep 09 2001

       Vernon, 'filling in the gaps' is not even close to what all of your ideas seem to need. Most 'genetic engineering' amounts to 'let's spray these with poison, and the ones that seem to get less sick, we can breed together'. About all they've managed to do with animals is to grow extra legs on fruit flies.   

       I doubt we'll ever actually be able to make the changes you seem to be wanting, things that would require ground-up redesign, not just a tweak here and there. This is something that people would have to subject unborn children to so that 500 generations from now, their multiply-great grandchildren MIGHT have it, if it didn't get screwed up. I would be willing to bet money that none of these ideas will ever be possible in the lifetime of anyone reading these pages now. It certainly won't be possible to change any specific person in this way. Genetic engineering does not change individuals.
StarChaser, Sep 09 2001

       StarChaser, as far as this Better Dentition idea is concerned, the existing evidence is that it is ONLY a matter of filling in gaps in our knowledge.   

       That is, as mentioned in a prior annotation, if human teeth already continue to grow at some slow rate, then all we have to do is find the genetic controls for that, and tweak 'em to grow slightly faster. And another annotation mentioned true cases where adults grew an entire third set of teeth; therefore there must be existing recessive genes in the population which merely need to be identified and made dominant.   

       Next, YES our current tools for manipulating genes are crude. But you seem to think those tools will always remain crude, while I am confident that the technology will be improved over time, just as all other technologies tend to be improved over time.   

       Perhaps the above-described gaps will be filled in at just about the time genetic engineering techniques have advanced to the point where the above-described tweaks will be feasible. And once those tweaks are made available to the public (sperm and/or ova mods), a generation of improved kids will begin getting born. Who in turn will later be able to pass those improved genes on to the generations that follow, in the ordinary way.   

       Nobody should think that genetic engineering will ever be easy for already-existing people. It is best promoted as a legacy for the humanity of the future.
Vernon, Feb 28 2002

       Rather than grow new teeth or have teeth that regenerate, why not just shellac 'em? Go to the dentist once a year, get checked over, clean the old stuff off and get a new coat. Won't replace teeth lost to accident, won't stop gum disease, won't replace brushing, but will reduce wear and tear and should control cavities.
phoenix, Feb 28 2002

       would me getting elephant tusks count as a legacy for the humanity of the future, or just my own selfish needs?
notripe, Feb 28 2002

       I bet you'd have a tough time passing on your genes if you had tusks, so I'd guess the latter.
phoenix, Feb 28 2002


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