Have no fear, the tooth fairy gene is here. Researchers at Oregon State University have found the gene responsible for growing tooth enamel, a discovery that could transform the much-hated trip to the dentist.
So does this new discovery mean an end to fillings and dentures once and for all?
Well not yet, but it might someday. Researchers have known for a while that the gene called Ctip2 plays a role in immune response, as well as skin and nerve development. But this is the first time anyone explored its role in regulating the growth of tooth enamel.
(In case you don’t know, enamel is the hard outer coating on teeth that can’t grow back on its own—it can be worn away by bacteria, from grinding your teeth during sleep, drinking too much soda, or even brushing too hard — and when your precious enamel chips away, it opens a breeding ground for cavities, and in some cases, results in tooth loss. Yikes.)
When Oregon State pharmacy professor Chrissa Kioussi “knocked out” the gene in mice, they grew “rudimentary” teeth and never developed tooth enamel—proving that the gene is needed to regulate the epithelial cells called ameloblasts, forcing them to secrete enamel.
When scientists figure out how to control the gene, they will be able to use stem cells to grow new teeth—in the lab, that is, not in your mouth. Until then, better hold off on the candy.
Image: flickr/ alexanderjmarkow