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The hedgehog and the orthodontist

Written by
29th March 2018

I am about to give you a little insight into an aspect of advanced orthodontics, or craniofacial development.

Learning about the growth of the jaws was an important aspect of my specialist training. I often draw on this to explain to patients how I can improve the way their teeth meet or function. Patients who choose LLOC for their treatment have concerns sometimes about their jaws and their bite as well as their smile. Helping improve both, and harnessing growth in young people, is a profoundly satisfying aspect of my work.

I am hugely proud that King’s Dental Institute, where I spent my undergraduate years, is home to the Cobourne lab, one of the world’s leading research teams in the field of craniofacial development. Professor Martyn Cobourne is leading research into the sonic hedgehog signaling gene. This gene triggers the development of the face in the unborn baby.

Sonic hedgehog is a protein that in humans is encoded by the SHH (sonic hedgehog) gene. That sounds confusing, I know, but the gene and the protein have the same name which is also the name of a video game! I understand from some articles I have found online that the name was given as a joke by a researcher before Sonic Hedgehog became the massive online game that it is now.

Understanding the function of this gene is of interest to orthodontists because of the essential role it plays during many aspects of craniofacial development, including normal formation of the face, regulating the number of teeth that form and patterning of the rugae, those small ridges of tissue found in the roof of the mouth.

Martyn’s research is extending our knowledge of facial development and I am very happy to learn that he is going to be speaking at the British Orthodontic Conference in London in September, a date I already have in my diary.

 


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