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Newly-discovered group of dental stem cells could patch up cavities

A newly-discovered population of stem cells could help patch up cavities
A newly-discovered population of stem cells could help patch up cavities
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Mesenchymal stem cells (green) migrating into the tooth
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Mesenchymal stem cells (green) migrating into the tooth
A newly-discovered population of stem cells could help patch up cavities
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A newly-discovered population of stem cells could help patch up cavities

The dentist's drill is a sound that sends shudders down the spines of many people, so it sure would be nice if teeth could just repair themselves. Thankfully that's not as far-fetched as it sounds – researchers from the University of Plymouth have found a new population of stem cells in mice that are in charge of repairing tooth tissue and could be recruited to help us patch up cavities.

Proper dental care is drilled (pun intended) into kids for a very good reason: our teeth are with us for life. Dentin, a tough tissue that covers the main body of a tooth, is one of the few parts of the human body that can't regenerate naturally, which is what makes tooth decay and injuries such a frustrating problem.

But not all animals are this limited. Many rodents, for example, have incisors (front teeth) that continuously grow over their lifetimes, to the point where they have to constantly gnaw on things to wear them down. The researchers on the new study focused on how these teeth regrow dentin, which we humans can't regenerate.

In the teeth of these mice, the team discovered a new population of mesenchymal stem cells, which are found in muscle and bone. The researchers showed that these cells are responsible for creating new dentin, controlling the number of new cells produced through a molecular gene called Dlk1.

In a further step, the team found that the Dlk1 gene not only plays an important part in the ongoing process of growing tooth tissue, but it does help patch up injuries as well.

Mesenchymal stem cells (green) migrating into the tooth
Mesenchymal stem cells (green) migrating into the tooth

"Stem cells are so important, as, in the future, they could be used by laboratories to regenerate tissues that have been damaged or lost due to disease – so it's vital to understand how they work," says Bing Hu, lead researcher on the study. "By uncovering both the new stem cells that make the main body of a tooth and establishing their vital use of Dlk1 in regenerating the tissue, we have taken major steps in understanding stem cell regeneration."

Of course, there's a big asterisk next to this conclusion – human teeth are very different, not least because they don't naturally regenerate. Further work will need to be done to determine if this same gene and stem cells can be manipulated in humans to unlock the ability to regrow dentin.

In the meantime, there are other techniques that may be closer to fruition. Last year, scientists from the University of Pennsylvania used stem cells harvested from patients' baby teeth to repair injuries to permanent teeth. This work was done in humans, so that bridge has already been crossed. Other techniques involve painting peptide-based fluids onto damaged teeth to stimulate them to regenerate, or even using low-powered lasers to coax dental stem cells to form dentin.

The new work was published in the journal Nature Communications.

Source: University of Plymouth

1 comment
DavidBaldwin
Stem Cell Tooth Fillings I know that certain dental questions are hard to answer, but I fill the need to ask this one because it has been on my mind for quite some time. In terms of a rough estimate, how much longer do they think it will take in terms of coming up with a new procedure where existing synthetic tooth fillings will be able to be replaced with stem cell grown tooth fillings? These would be bio fillings grown from the existing dentin layer (inside the tooth) grown outward to fill in the entire area of the tooth that was originally drilled out to place the original synthetic filling. I have done some extensive online research into this subject since 2009, after receiving a tooth filling in my upper first right molar. At one point I read that such a technology may become a reality after ten years (that was back in 2011). So far tests have only been done on mice teeth. Now that it is near the end of 2019 there has been an explosion of online information covering dental healing. You would think that a solution to this subject would be just a few short years away. respectfully David PB