Induced pluripotent stem cells may have the power to change medicine forever. While these cells may one day be able to help cure diseases like Parkinson’s disease or allow hearts to be synthesized, they can also play a role in oral health. Did you know that the mouth can be a great source of cells for making induced pluripotent stem cells? You may be surprised to discover the many different cell sources found in the mouth for induced pluripotent stem cell production. There is also a need for new treatments in oral care. What if we never had to worry about getting gum disease or cavities? Using induced pluripotent stem cell treatments in dentistry could make these hopes a reality.

What Are Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells and Why Are They Important?

Induced pluripotent stem cells are stem cells synthesized from mature somatic cells that have the ability to differentiate into almost any type of cell in an organism. Shinya Yamanaka and his colleagues first made induced pluripotent stem cells from mice cells in 2006. Several benefits have come from the discovery of induced pluripotent stem cells. For example, induced pluripotent stem cells can be used in place of embryonic stem cells since they have nearly identical differentiation capabilities. This has limited many ethical concerns since the extraction of embryonic stem cells requires an embryo to be destroyed while induced pluripotent stem cells are obtained from somatic cells in adults. In addition, pluripotent stem cells have many potential applications in medicine, including the regeneration of tissues and organs as well as making models of diseases to study the progression of diseases and develop new drugs to treat those diseases. Interestingly, induced pluripotent stem cells can play many roles in the field of oral health. We normally think of induced pluripotent stem cells in terms of growing new organs, treating diseases or treating paralysis, but one day, they may be used by dentists to improve oral health!

The Mouth is an Ideal Source for Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells

Induced pluripotent cells can be conveniently made from human gingival fibroblasts (hGFs) because hGFs are easy to obtain and culture. They are obtained by cutting the oral mucosa, which heals quicker than skin and therefore, causes less pain to donors of fibroblasts from the oral mucosa than donors of fibroblasts from skin. Unfortunately, it is often difficult to obtain fibroblasts since donors are hesitant to undergo invasive techniques that require their skin to be cut. This is perfectly understandable. If many people are already afraid of getting poked with a needle to donate blood, why would they want to volunteer to get their skin cut to donate their fibroblasts? Fortunately, there are other options available to potential cell donors. Oral mucosa and gingival tissue can be swabbed to obtain cells that can be used to make induced pluripotent stem cells (Figure 1). Stem cells found in dental pulp and the periodontal ligament can also be converted into induced pluripotent stem cells with greater ease than many fibroblasts. Furthermore, cells can also be obtained from extracted wisdom teeth. There may finally be a use for those bothersome teeth that many people have to get removed! Using wisdom teeth as a source for induced pluripotent stem cells would be a good practice since patients already have to undergo a procedure to get them removed, so cell donations could be made at the same time. This would save the donor time and could give researchers a large amount of cells to use to make induced pluripotent stem cells since people are more likely to get their wisdom teeth removed than volunteer to have their skin cut to make cell donations.

Figure 1. Diagram of a human tooth indicating enamel for cavity protection and gingiva and dental pulp tissues that can provide cells to make induced pluripotent stem cells. Author: KDS4444 – Own Work. Source: Human tooth diagram-en.svg from Wikimedia Commons. License: Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International

Potential Applications of Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells in Oral Care

There are a number of oral health problems that could potentially be treated using induced pluripotent stem cells. For example, it could be possible to treat periodontal disease using induced pluripotent stem cells. Periodontal disease can cause teeth to fall out due to bone resorption. Some research has shown that using proteins called BMP-6 with induced pluripotent stem cells can increase osteogenesis and synthesis of tissues for the periodontal ligaments in rats, which suggests that regeneration of tissues damaged by periodontal disease could be possible with stem cell treatment. This is a promising finding since most people would likely prefer to keep their own teeth instead of having to deal with the discomfort caused by wearing dentures! It may also be possible to use induced pluripotent stem cells to regenerate enamel, which could help prevent people from getting cavities (Figure 1). There may finally be a way for people who have poor enamel to avoid the dreaded feeling of being frozen and having their teeth drilled into to get fillings done! Another potential application of induced pluripotent stem cells is in treating Oral Squamous Cell Carcinoma (OSCC), which is the most common type of oral cancer. It is very difficult to detect OSCC before it becomes too advanced to treat. Some researchers have found that oral squamous cell carcinoma cells can be converted into induced pluripotent stem cells. This can eliminate the ability of the cancerous cells to give rise to new cancer cells, which could potentially reverse the progress of cancer and with further research, may serve as a treatment for OSCC. Yes, that’s right. It may be possible to treat certain types of cancer using induced pluripotent stem cells! Maybe with further research, induced pluripotent stem cells will be the answer to finding a treatment for stage four cancers that are currently untreatable.

It is amazing to think about how many applications stem cells could potentially have. Hopefully one day, we will be able to encourage more people to donate cells from their mouths using relatively painless extraction techniques in order to treat oral conditions. Maybe it will be possible to prevent people from losing their teeth from gum disease, getting cavities, or receiving diagnoses of terminal oral cancer in the future. There will likely be many other conditions discovered that we could potentially treat using induced pluripotent stem cells. After all, the possibilities opened by the discovery of these stem cells are nearly endless.