A team of scientists at Oregon State University has identified the gene that controls the production of tooth enamel, and researchers say the discovery could lead to the repair of damaged enamel and restoration or even production of replacement teeth.
The gene Ctip2 was already known to function in immune response and the development of skin and the nervous system.
"It's not unusual for a gene to have multiple functions, but before this we didn't know what regulated the production of tooth enamel," said Chrissa Kioussi, Ph.D., assistant professor in the College of Pharmacy, Oregon State University. "This is the first transcription factor ever found to control the formation and maturation of ameloblasts, which are the cells that secrete enamel."
In the study, Dr. Kioussi and her team used a laboratory mouse model in which this gene has been "knocked out" and its protein is missing. The mice in this study had rudimentary teeth ready to erupt, but they lacked a proper enamel.
"Enamel is one of the hardest coatings found in nature, it evolved to give carnivores the tough and long-lasting teeth they needed to survive," said Dr. Kioussi.
With the genetic information, Dr. Kioussi said it may be possible to use tooth stem cells to stimulate the growth of new enamel. Scientists are already having success growing the inner portions of teeth in laboratory animal experiments, but without the genetic data, those teeth have no hard coatings.
"A lot of work would still be needed to bring this to human applications, but it should work," said Dr. Kioussi.
Most cavities start as a hole in tooth enamel. Dental patients who have problems with eroded tooth enamel are generally those who smoke, drink and especially those who use illegal drugs such as methamphetamine.
The findings of the study were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.© American Dental Association. All rights reserved. Reproduction or republication is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission from the American Dental Association.