Why do some people develop cavities even though they always brush their teeth carefully, while others are less stringent yet do not have any holes? Both have bacteria on the surface of their teeth which can attack the enamel. Enamel forms via the mineralisation of specific enamel proteins. If the enamel is defective, tooth decay can strike.
Researchers from the University of Zurich have pinpointed a gene that is responsible for the formation of tooth enamel. Two teams used mice with varying mutations of the enamel proteins involved in the so-called Wnt signalling pathway. Thanks to this transmission route, human and animal cells respond to external signals and specifically activate selected genes.
“All mice with mutations in these proteins exhibit teeth with enamel defects”, explained Pierfrancesco Pagella, one of the study’s authors: “Therefore, we demonstrated that there is a direct link between mutations in the genetic blueprints for these proteins and the development of tooth enamel defects”.
This genetic discovery goes a long way towards improving our understanding of the production of tooth enamel. The hardness and composition of the tooth enamel can affect the progression of cavities.
“We revealed that tooth decay isn’t just linked to bacteria, but also the tooth’s resistance”, says Thimios Mitsiadis, Professor of Oral Biology. Bacteria and their toxic products can easily penetrate enamel with a less stable structure.
Understanding the molecular-biological connections of tooth enamel development and the impact of mutations that lead to defects opens up new possibilities for the prevention of cavities.