Are Tooth Banks the Future?

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

A Healthy Mouth for Your Baby

February is National Children’s Dental Health Month! To celebrate, we want to talk about the tiniest members of our families with the tiniest teeth: babies! Whether you are a first-time parent or just had your fifth, the cutting of the first tooth is an exciting (and painful) experience. For those involved with baby’s first tooth, there are a lot of questions. Come visit us to get all your questions answered, but in the meantime, here are the answers to some questions we hear frequently!

  • When should I take my baby to the dentist?

Taking your baby to their first dentist appointment should occur sometime after their first tooth comes in and no later than their first birthday. At this appointment, your dentist will examine their teeth for cavities and can also show you how to properly clean your child’s teeth. Your dentist might also guide you through how to handle habits like thumb-sucking.

  • How should I care for my baby’s first teeth?

Start cleaning your baby’s teeth as soon as they appear. Begin by wiping the gums with a clean, damp washcloth. You can also use a finger brush or another toothbrush designed for babies’ sensitive gums. Use toothpaste without sugar if at all possible. We don’t recommend brushing your baby’s teeth with fluoride toothpaste because babies tend to swallow it and ingest too much fluoride. Make sure to brush their teeth twice a day, just like you do!

  • How can I prevent tooth decay for my baby?

While baby teeth are temporary, it is still important to take care of them and prevent cavities. These first teeth also set the foundation to make sure adult teeth come in properly. One common cause of infant tooth decay is the frequent exposure of baby’s teeth to drinks that contain sugar. This exposure occurs most often when a baby is put to bed with a bottle, or when a bottle is used as a pacifier. Good habits that will help prevent this decay are regular brushing, avoiding juice, finishing bottles prior to bedtime, and encouraging general healthy eating habits.

  • Can breastfed babies get cavities?

Yes! Natural breast milk, just like formula, contains sugar. So it is important to care for your baby’s teeth from day one in either case. Make sure to wash your baby’s gums with a wet washcloth every day and brush their teeth twice a day as soon as the first tooth erupts.

  • How can thumb-sucking affect my child’s teeth?

Babies and children often suck their thumbs as a way to soothe themselves. However, this habit can result in improper development of the oral cavity and misalignment of the teeth. Thumb-sucking can even cause changes in the roof of the mouth. Pacifiers can affect the teeth in a similar manner. Typically, kids stop sucking their thumbs by the time their permanent teeth are ready to erupt, but it is important to try and stop the habit before that time comes.