The media frequently uses scientific terminus and terminology without giving a proper explanation as to what the things reflected upon are, how they are relevant to the topic,or without going in depth into the explanation of the topic they see to expose. This is especially problematic when biological and medical issues are in the spotlight, as misinformation can be lethal. This is why we want to clear some of the smoke screen around one of the buzzwords, and explain their oft neglected role in dentistry. Today I wish to speak of cytokines. 

What Is A Cytokine

We have all heard the term cytokine before, but what is it? Many know that they have something to do with cancer (or at least cancer research), and some my have heard the term used when obesity is being spoken of, but rarely are they observed in more detail. 

Cytokines are NOT cells, despite their names. Thier name means ‘moving cells’ (from cyto, meaning cell and kinos meaning movement or force), but really they are proteins, peptides and glycoproteins. They are always soluble, and are always very short lived. They play an important function in cell communication. They usually are released by a host cell when it is attacked by a tumor, parasites, by viruses, bacteria or other pathogens, and communicate information that leads to the triggering of immune responses. They are basically your cells’ distress signals towards their comrades, to come and save them.


With the above mentioned information it sounds like these are a godsend. When problems arise, cells release them, and then they are saved, right? 

Although they are very useful, cytokines cause a number of problems. For starters, cytokines, like most peptides and glucose related cells, are bad for your teeth,wear down your enamel and contribute to tooth decay. This is why they are mentioned in obesity research so frequently; they appear all over the bodies of obese people, and cause many dental ills for them. 

The other problem is that they aggravate the immune system, and can aggravate the lining of the various tissues of the body, and cause an immune reaction that will eventually trigger cells to become cancerous.

A third problem that has little to do with dentistry is what is referred to as a cytokine storm. This is a heightened immune response that is caused by the presence of cytokines. It is a shock to the system, as when cytokines are released by the cells, sometimes as a response, the body reacts and releases even more cytokines, etc, until allergic shock or sometimes even death can result. It is basically an indefinite feedback loop, that increases in strength and in the number of cytokines present. 

With these problems, it is obvious why the presence of cytokines in the human body is a mixed blessing. These proteins are released automatically by the cells, and thus it is hard to determine what the best course of action against them is. For right now, they’re an indicator that something is wrong, and needs fixing quickly, before anything goes even more seriously more. 

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