Perhaps the Tooth Fairy should start looking for a new job! Researchers have had success in locating stem cells in dental tissue and in regenerating new dental tissue. Dental stem cells have the potential to grow not just teeth, but also show promise in the repair of bone tissues and optic neurons. In fact, there are now companies that will extract stem cells from wisdom and baby teeth and store them for you until needed, a process similar to cord-blood banking. This is an exciting discovery with enormous potential, but is it worth the expense to invest your child’s teeth now? We decided to look in to this further.
What’s so Special About a Stem Cell?
Stem cells have the remarkable potential to grow into many different types of cells as well as aid the body’s internal repair system. For example, a stem cell can become another type of cell with a more specialized function, such as a muscle cell or a brain cell. Stem cells have been found in bone marrow and in umbilical cord blood, and in 2003 were also found in teeth.
Scientists at the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research noticed that when a tooth gets a cavity, it also produces something called reparative dentin to protect itself. This led researchers to hypothesize that stem cells were within teeth activating the dentin when needed. Having the ability to create dentin could allow a dentist to grow replacement teeth as needed, rather than rely on implants or bridges. Even more potential lies in the stem cells that have been found in baby teeth, known as SHED (stem cells from human exfoliated deciduous teeth). SHED cells also seem to be able to make something similar to bone.
Enter tooth banks, which promise to safely extract the SHED cells from your child’s baby teeth and store them for later use.
How do Tooth Banks Work?
Extracting SHED cells from baby teeth is a process that involves the cooperation and expertise of your dentist. Rather than wait for a child’s loose baby tooth to fall out, it’s best to extract the tooth when there’s about one-third of the root remaining to ensure there are viable stem cells. According to the former American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) President Dr. Jade Miller, “It really requires some planning, and so parents need to make this decision early on and be prepared and speak with their pediatric dentist about that.” Tooth banks offer a dental kit for the dentist with all the necessary components to collect the SHED cells.
From there, the tooth bank extracts the stem cells from the dental pulp inside the tooth, and then processes and tests the cells before they are cryogenically preserved.
What do the Experts Say?
Currently, the scientific community is divided as to whether or not storing teeth is worthwhile. The AAPD released an official statement saying it “recognizes that harvested dental stem cells is an emerging science which may have application for oral health care but at present there are no treatments available using harvested dental stem cells from a tooth or follicle. As the technology continues to evolve, the process of procurement of dental stems should be accomplished only with deliberate integrity and appropriate informed consent to assure the highest ethical standards and quality of outcomes.”
Meanwhile the AAPD’s former president, Dr. Miller has decided, as a grandparent, to use a tooth bank. “It’s really in its infancy, much of this research. There’s a very strong chance there’s going to be utilization for these stem cells, and they could be life-saving. There’s going to be a significant application and I want to give my grandkids the opportunity to have those options.”
Says Dr. Brunacini: “Stems cells are exciting in their potential to help a lot of people with multiple ailments, including missing teeth. Here at FDA, we are excited to see how the technology progresses to hopefully provide an all-natural approach to replacing missing teeth.”
If you would like to learn more about Tooth Banks or the potential of dental stem cells, we are here to answer your questions!
*Image courtesy of www.toothbank.com