Genetic Discovery Could Lead to Advances in Dental Care

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.

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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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What Are The Different Parts Of A Tooth?

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.