When kids lose their baby teeth (also known as temporary teeth or primary teeth), they make space for their adult teeth to come in. But parents may have more reason to hang on to them than simply as a memento of childhood. And the tooth fairy could be flying away with more than she originally bargained for. Some researchers are recommending that parents hang onto their kid’s lost baby teeth. Why? Because of the stem cells found in the dental pulp of the tooth. Before calling up your nearest tooth bank, it’s important to know that science has to catch up to some of the existing claims. Understand the applications this research has today and decide if storing the stem cells found in lost baby teeth is right for your family.
Dental Pulp of Lost Baby Teeth Contains Stem Cells
In the center of a tooth, whether it’s a primary tooth or a permanent tooth, lies the dental pulp. In 2011, news broke across headlines that scientists had found stem cells in baby teeth. Those stem cells could rebuild the surface of a tooth and treat tooth loss from injury. They can even be applied outside of dental practice. But, we’re still years away from practicing what researchers believe is possible.
You’ll find claims online stating that your children’s baby teeth can replace a bone marrow donor or can treat Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. It’s important to understand where the science lies behind these claims. As a parent, you can make an educated decision about what you want to do with your child’s baby teeth.
The possibilities for using stem cells from baby teeth are extremely promising. Scientists believe there’s a lot of potential uses for these stem cells within “regenerative” medicine. This type of medicine helps the body to heal or repair when the body can’t do it on its own. Scientists believe that dental stem cells show promise because the same category of stem cells have been taken from other sources and used for regenerative medicine.
The long-term viability of using dental stem cells is not known yet. One study writes that “the research is mainly confined to animal models and their extensive clinical application is yet to be tested.”
Implementing this new discovery in everyday life takes years to ensure it’s safe and effective.
Even if we’re successful in bypassing the risks and taking advantage of the benefits, there’s a lot of regulation needed. “Stem cell research must be conducted under effective, accountable systems of social-responsible oversight and control, at both the national and international levels,” argues one researcher.
One article reviewing the stem cell treatment writes that “broad claims are being made by some stem cell treatment clinics that go far beyond what current science supports. Experts say those exaggerated claims are taking advantage of the most vulnerable and desperate. That includes patients and families desperately searching for cures modern medicine has yet to develop – like a cure for autism, Alzheimer’s disease, Multiple Schlerosis, and Parkinson’s disease.”
Dr. Pamela Robey from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research wrote an important reminder in her study that “the US FDA has yet to approve the use of dental stem cells in medical procedures.”
How is Storing Dental Stem Cells Possible?
Another complication of using lost baby teeth for their stem cells is the storing process. To preserve the dental pulp so that it’s still usable years from now requires very specific (and expensive) technology. One method called “cryopreservation” keeps the cells alive by cooling them to a sub-zero temperature of liquid nitrogen. Another method has discovered how a “weak magnetic field” can also freeze the cells so that they don’t die. A handful of companies offer these freezing and storing services for a pretty penny. “Tooth banks” were first established in 2007, and are slowly gaining traction in the United States. Tooth banks store baby teeth so that the pulp can be used years down the road for repairing disease or even replacing teeth. If you’re considering using a tooth bank, remember that more research and more time is needed before the stem cells from teeth can actually be put to use.
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