Scientists Identify Key Protein in Dental Enamel Formation

Scientists at The Forsyth Institute have isolated a protein that plays a key role in the development of dental enamel, a discovery they say may lead to new biological methods for repairing teeth and other mineralized tissues.

Dental enamel, the hardest tissue in the human body, is composed mainly of calcium phosphate mineral crystals organized into parallel bundles called rods. The structure and organization of the crystals gives enamel both strength and durability.

In new research, Forsyth scientists identified the protein amelogenin as a key component in regulating the organization and growth of enamel crystals.

"We also determined the newly-forming enamel structure emerges as a result of cooperative interactions between forming crystals and assembling proteins, rather than sequentially, as in the formation of other mineralized tissues such as bone and dentin," explained Elia Beniash, Ph.D., staff scientist at The Forsyth Institute.

In addition to being an important step in understanding enamel formation and developing techniques to repair it, the identification of amelogenin may also lead to new developments in biomimetic, nano-structured materials, the Forsyth scientists said. Biomimetic materials are manufactured materials whose design and functional properties are modeled on biological systems while nano-structured materials are fabricated at the sub-micron level.

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This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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Each tooth has several distinct parts; here is an overview of each part:

  • Enamel – this is the outer and hardest part of the tooth that has the most mineralized tissue in the body. It can be damaged by decay if teeth are not cared for properly.

  • Dentin – this is the layer of the tooth under the enamel. If decay makes it through the enamel, it next attacks the dentin — where millions of tiny tubes lead directly to the dental pulp.

  • Pulp – this is the soft tissue found in the center of all teeth, where the nerve tissue and blood vessels are located. If tooth decay reaches the pulp, you usually feel pain and may require a root canal procedure.