One way regular brushing may help keep gums firm and pink is, paradoxically, by tearing open cells, researchers have found.
Bristles wielded with even gentle force tear holes in the epithelial cells that line the gums and tongue, causing a momentary rupture, researchers at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta report in the cover article of the August issue of the Journal of Dental Research.
Tearing enables calcium, abundant in saliva, to move into the cells, triggering internal membranes to move up and patch the hole, says Dr. Katsuya Miyake, MCG cell biologist and the papers co-first author. But in the seconds that repair takes, growth factors that promote growth of collagen, new cells and blood vessels leak out of injured cells.
Cell injury also turns on expression of the c-fos gene, an early-response gene often activated under stress that may be the first step in a response such as cell division or growth, says Dr. Paul L. McNeil, MCG cell biologist and corresponding author.
Its very clear that brushing your teeth is a healthy thing to do; no one questions that brushing removes bacteria and thats probably its main function, Dr. McNeil says. But we are thinking that there might be another positive aspect of brushing. Many tissues in our bodies respond to mechanical stress by adapting and getting stronger, like muscles. We think the gums may adapt to this mechanical stress by getting thicker and healthier. Its the no pain, no gain theory the same as exercising.
The research team, which also includes Dr. Kaori Amano, dental researcher, Kyorin University of Medicine in Japan, and Dr. James L. Borke, MCG physiologist, injected a fluorescent dye into the blood stream that can only get into torn cells. They then brushed the teeth, gums and tongue of rats with a modified electric toothbrush. We saw lots of bright cells, says Dr. Miyake, co-director of the MCG Cell Imaging Core Facility.