Other scientists think they're close to identifying some of the key growth factors that may spur dental stem cells into action.
"We can inject things into the jaws of the gecko and we can follow the way teeth are replaced using dental wax bites," said Joy Richman, a professor of oral health sciences at the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver.
Richman said geckos are somewhat easier to study than alligators because they make new teeth every five weeks or so, instead of every year, as gators do.
She said the process of manipulating tooth regeneration needs to be carefully studied in many different kinds of animals before it should be tried in humans, however, since the same stem cells that make teeth can also make oral cancers if they are overstimulated.
"What we'd like to be able to do is basically get people to make new teeth on demand, but using a person's own cells to do it," said Richman, who was not involved in the alligator study.
To learn how to keep teeth healthy, head to the American Dental Association.
SOURCES: Pamela Yelick, Ph.D., professor of oral pathology, Tufts University, Boston; Joy Richman, D.M.D., M.Dent.Sci., Ph.D., professor of oral health sciences, University of British Columbia, Vancouver; May 13, 2013, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
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