Three Dental Discoveries Driving Innovation in Medicine

The unique structures and microenvironment of the oral cavity has inspired countless lines of inquiry leading to innovations with wide application beyond dentistry. Many of these discoveries and advancements have placed new treatments at the forefront of medical science. Here are our top three:

Dental stem cells may one day regenerate organs.

One of the most promising dental mechanisms for biomedical use is the method by which mice and other rodents continuously regenerate their front teeth. Researchers at the UCSF School of Dentistry are investigating this system with far-reaching goals including growing new tooth structures. So far, the researchers have uncovered the fact that integrin proteins, which link the internal scaffolding of cells to their neighbors, are involved in signaling pathway causing the dentin and enamel producing stem cells to multiply rapidly. The current theory is that tension forces transmitted through integrins trigger the cells to grow and differentiate. This model could one day be used to recruit stem cells for organ, neural, and connective tissues and cause them to grow.

Synthetic mucous fights bacteria.

The oral microbiome is one of the most promising fields of study both for the promotion of oral health and understanding how the body interacts with and regulates commensal bacteria versus pathogenic bacteria. The mucous secreted by the alimentary canal is now being studied for its infection control mechanisms that assist in weakening or inactivating pathogens. The structure of this mucous, largely composed of proteins called mucins, is now being replicated by researchers. Synthetic mucins similar to those found in saliva were tested by incubating two types of Streptococcus bacteria in the presence of the compound, or alone. On their own, the pathogenic S. mutans rapidly overgrows the more benign S. sanguinis, but when grown on the synthetic mucous plate, the two bacteria are somehow regulated and coexist in more balanced levels. This is an exciting step toward treating dysbiosis of the gut, oral, or vaginal cavities wherein an overgrowth of harmful bacteria cause problems.

Dental nanotechnology gives rise to long-acting implantable antibiotics.

Scientists looking for a longer-acting solution for periodontitis recently developed antibiotic-releasing microspheres that are implanted in the periodontal pockets to allow the gingival tissues to heal in a more favorable environment. This treatment is reportedly so effective that it’s being explored for other chronic bacterial diseases like sinusitis, prostatitis and certain skin conditions. Treatments of this nature are able to perfuse tissues with steady levels of antibiotics for a long enough time to allow the body to heal from serious and chronic infections.

These innovations began with dentistry, but serve to advance our understanding of diverse mechanisms and relationships between the entire body and the environment, and can aid in the development of treatments that are less invasive and more effective for our patients.

Adjunctive minocycline microspheres. (2017). Medical News Today. Retrieved 9 May 2017, from

Mouse teeth providing new insights into tissue regeneration: Basic research has implications from lab-grown teeth to cancer research. (2017). ScienceDaily. Retrieved 9 May 2017, from

With synthetic mucus, researchers take aim at antibiotic resistance. (2017). ScienceDaily. Retrieved 9 May 2017, from

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