University of Athens, Faculty of Biology, Department of Cell Biology and Biophysics, Athens, Greece
The ancestor of recent vertebrate teeth was a tooth-like structure on the outer body surface of jawless fishes. Over the course of 500,000,000 years of evolution, many of those structures migrated into the mouth cavity. In addition, the total number of teeth per dentition generally decreased and teeth morphological complexity increased. Teeth form mainly on the jaws within the mouth cavity through mutual, delicate interactions between dental epithelium and oral ectomesenchyme. These interactions involve spatially restricted expression of several, teeth-related genes and the secretion of various transcription and signaling factors. Congenital disturbances in tooth formation, acquired dental diseases and odontogenic tumors affect millions of people and rank human oral pathology as the second most frequent clinical problem. On the basis of substantial experimental evidence and advances in bioengineering, many scientists strongly believe that a deep knowledge of the evolutionary relationships and the cellular and molecular mechanisms regulating the morphogenesis of a given tooth in its natural position, in vivo, will be useful in the near future to prevent and treat teeth pathologies and malformations and for in vitro and in vivo teeth tissue regeneration.
Keywords: epithelial-mesenchymal interactions, teeth evolution, development and regeneration