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Could Genetics Research Turn Yellow Teeth White?
Over the years our teeth take a pounding as we munch on meat, sweets and anything else we care to get our choppers around. For most of the time we take our pearly whites for granted until the signs of decay set in. They become pockmarked with cavities, and turn an unattractive colour of yellow. Consequently there's a booming industry in teeth whitening, dentistry, and supplying dentures to the toothless. You rarely see a hard-up dentist.
It hasn't escaped the attention of some researchers that it might be possible to use our knowledge of genetics to grow a perfect set of gnashers. There could be a gap in the market for companies that can create white teeth in the laboratory.
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How to Make White Teeth
A team from Oregon State University has located the gene that is responsible for the growth of enamel, the hard outer layer of teeth, that once damaged cannot grow back naturally. There are other researchers who are working on growing the inner parts of teeth, but they are unable to produce enamel.
Ameloblasts are the cells that produce enamel and the scientists from Oregon have demonstrated that a transcription factor known as Ctip2 is critical for enamel production. It controls the formation and maturation of these cells, and when mice were bred without Ctip2 the ameloblasts were unable to function properly.
The tantalising prospect about this research is that if this transcription factor can be controlled - say to boost enamel production - and then you combine this with stem cell technology, you could have the means of growing a brilliant set of white teeth. No more need for teeth whitening procedures, and if all you want for Christmas is two front teeth forget Santa, just pop along to the lab. Ok I maybe getting a bit carried away with the last sentence, but the enamel research combined with knowledge coming from stem cell genetics could one day be able to make teeth to order. It will be some time of course before there are these human applications, but they have the potential to revolutionize dental care.
In the meantime, knowledge gained from research like this could help us to understand much more about the mechanisms of tooth decay and repair.