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Fast Facts – Cells of the Oral Mucosa

Fast Facts – Perio Edition Episode 12
[Andrew Johnston, RDH]
Welcome back, everyone. You are listening to another episode of Fast Facts- Perio Edition brought to you by A Tale of Two Hygienists in partnership with DentistRX. And now, please welcome your host, Katrina Sanders.
[Katrina Sanders, RDH]
This week’s episode continues the conversation around oral anatomy, and for all of my dental geeks out there who love to geek out on this type of content, this episode is for you! Today, we’re going to be talking about the cells of the oral mucosa.
Now, it’s important for us to remember specifically that we know that the oral epithelium has a high tissue turnover rate or a renewal rate.This renewal or basal layer that continues to renew, we believe, turns over approximately every 10 days, whereas skin, for example, has a turnover rate of 28 days. This is why we can see a lot of tissue changes in the oral cavity.
It’s important to note that there are several different types of cells located within the oral epithelium, all of which are there and built to protect the underlying structures. The first are keratinocytes. Now, these keratinocytes are major, major, major cells that function to synthesize keratin. That’s where we, of course, get that mechanical toughness. Remember, that’s kind of like the palm of your hand with that thick or tough keratin. Or if you haven’t had a pedicure in a while, we could say that could be the thickness of the palms of your feet. But we see that these keratinocytes, for example, are responsible for the keratinization process.
As these cells build keratin, they begin to move through the layers of our oral mucosa before they finally reach that outer epithelial surface and then are shed from the surface into the oral cavity. That’s where we, of course, see that tissue sloughing responsible for that quick tissue turn over.
These keratinocytes are also responsible for that salmon pink color of the gingiva. And we know, of course, that that keratin really is built to provide mechanical toughness.
We also have melanocytes and these are located within the basal layer. They are what secrete melanin. So they are responsible for pigmentation, particularly more prominent in our darker skinned individuals. Of course, the amount of pigmentation is genetically predetermined and it’s really based on the amount of melanin that these particular cells develop.
We also have other types of cells in the epithelium like our Langerhans cells, and these are cells that are involved in early defense mechanisms of the gingiva. So they’re going to help to protect our oral mucosa in a state of bacterial threat. And we also have Merkel cells and these Merkel cells are associated with nerve endings like touch sensory cells. And then, of course, we have our beautiful white blood cells like our lymphocytes, our neutrophils and our PMN’s, which are the most prominent cell in our oral mucosa, transiently found in epithelial layers in health. But of course, as we continue to see disease, we will see these various types of gingival cells in greater quantities. OK, how is that for a geek out sesh?
Stay tuned as we continue the conversation around oral anatomy in next week’s episode.
This has been another episode of Fast Facts – Perio Edition with Katrina Sanders, RDH. Please feel free to reach me on Instagram @thedentalwinegenist or on my website Cheers.
[Andrew Johnston, RDH]
Thank you for listening to another episode of Fast Facts – Perio Edition, brought to you in part by DentistRX makers of the InteliSonic line of power brushes. Find out more by visiting their website at We’ll see you next week for another Fast Fact!

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