Tooth's immune cells may do more harm than good

(RxWiki News) A recent study on odontoblasts, immune cells which specifically protect teeth, finds that while they are useful in fighting infection they are also responsible for inflammation of the tooth.

A staggering 92 percent of adults have had tooth decay in their permanent teeth and 42 percent of children experience dental caries (tooth decay) as well. Teeth are able to fight bacterial infection, but only to a certain degree; beyond that, severe inflammation can lead to abscess (pus accumulation) and death of the tooth.

Luckily, the human immune system comes equipped with its own microscopic dentists: odontoblast cells. Odontoblasts lie beneath the tooth enamel and form a layer of dentin to protect the inner tooth. Enamel is the hard outermost part of the tooth, while dentin is a less brittle tissue that holds up enamel.

The odontoblast immune cells not only help form this critical layer of dentin, they also launch an immune response when bacteria attack the tooth. The odontoblasts do this by producing antimicrobial peptides, proteins that draw white blood cells (immune cells) to the infection to help fight it.

While their intentions are good, these odontoblasts also kick-start the inflammation process, which in turn can lead to further problems if it carries on for too long. However, odontoblasts can now be used as a viable target to control inflammation in sick teeth.

Review Date: 
January 25, 2011