New research, published in the journal BMC Immunology,shows that odontoblast cells are part of the immune system and fight toprotect teeth from decay, providing possible targets to controlirreversible inflammatory damage to teeth.

It is known that teeth can protect themselves, to some extent, fromattack by bacteria, but that inflammation within a tooth can be damagingand, in extreme cases, lead to abscess or death of the tooth.

Odontoblast cells, located inside the tooth, lie between the enameland pulp and produce a layer of dentin to protect the pulp from wear andinfection. This research shows that, when under attack from bacteria,the odontoblast cells also orchestrate an immune response, producingantimicrobial peptides (ß-defensins)to fight the infection directly, protein messengers (chemokines) whichrecruit white blood cells to the site of infection, and pro-inflammatorysignaling proteins (IL-1ß, IL-1α, and TNF-α) which, in turn, initiate an inflammatory response.

Orapin Horst, DDS, the study’s lead investigator, also found that theodontoblast layer produced proteins involved in the down-regulation ofthis inflammatory response, such as toll-interacting protein (TOLLIP),TGF-ß , and IL-10, which help protect the underlying pulp from inflammatory damage.