Inherited genetic material determines how people look and may even play a role in how they act. Therefore, abnormal physical traits like supernumerary teeth - or having too many teeth - have been thought to be caused by genetic mutations.
Now, researchers from the University of Helsinki have identified a specific gene for a protein, called IL11, which may contribute to the excessive growth of teeth when its regulatory mechanisms go awry.
"This is a quite novel discovery as IL11 – or the signaling pathway it belongs to – has not previously been associated with any inherited human disorders," said lead researcher Pekka Nieminen.
The scientists explained that the gene normally supports tissue interactions that occur in the gums when new teeth are being formed and signal when these processes should start and stop.
They noted that another related gene, IL11RA, may cause delayed tooth eruption in individuals with these types of mutations.
The National Center for Biotechnology Information states that a delay in tooth eruption of up to 12 months can be normal in otherwise healthy children, so not all instances of this condition are a result of gene mutations.
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