It is generally accepted in the medical community that stem cells play an important role in wound healing. They can develop into specialized cell types throughout the body, aiding in all kinds of tissue regeneration.

A new study led by Dr. Bing Hu from the University of Plymouth's Peninsula Dental School, with collaboration from researchers worldwide, asserts that certain stem cell tissue regeneration extends to teeth. This finding offers up a new and novel potential solution to tooth repair and may inform the way dentists treat teeth in the future.

Published in early August, in Nature Communications, the study showed that a gene called Dlk1 enhances stem cell activation and tissue regeneration in tooth healing.

Dr. Hu, who is also part of the University's Institute of Translational and Stratified Medicine (ITSMed), said, "Stem cells are so important, as, in the future, they could be used by laboratories to regenerate tissues that have been damaged or lost due to disease, so it's vital to understand how they work.”

Here’s the scoop:

Dr. Hu and his team discovered a new population of mesenchymal stem cells in a continuously growing mouse incisor model. If you tripped on the term mesenchymal, no worries. So did we. It just means the stem cells that make up skeletal tissue such as muscle and bone. They showed that these fancy-word stem cells contribute to the formation of tooth dentin, the hard tissue that covers the main body of a tooth.

Importantly, the work showed that when these stem cells are activated, they then send signals back to the mother cells of the tissue to control the number of cells produced, through a molecular gene called Dlk1. This study and resulting report are the first to show that Dlk1 is vital for this process to work.

In the same report, the researchers also proved that Dlk1 can enhance stem cell activation and tissue regeneration in a tooth wound healing model. Why is this so important? This mechanism could provide a novel solution for tooth reparation, dealing with problems such as tooth decay, dental caries and trauma treatment.

Here’s why it matters

Professor Christopher Tredwin, Head of Peninsula Dental School and co-author of the paper, said the following: "We are highly excited by the recent progress in Dr. Bing Hu's group. This new work, together with a recent high-impact paper, which is about another type of stem cells in the tooth: epithelial stem cells, puts Plymouth at the front of the world's dental and craniofacial stem cell research and regenerative medicine. We expect those researchers will soon provide dental patients better time and cost-effective solutions to serious tooth problems.”