Dental Stem Cells
Stem cells are the "master" cells of the body. Stem cells are defined by their ability to make many different types of cells, and to divide many more times than regular cells, which is why scientists are extremely enthusiastic about using stem cells for regenerative dentistry and medicine. However, a major question is where to get these powerful stem cells? Scientists have discovered that there are stem cells in teeth, which can be collected from baby teeth that are naturally falling out and from wisdom (or other healthy permanent teeth) that are being extracted.
Dental stem cells are adult stem cells (not embryonic stem cells) found in both baby teeth and wisdom teeth. Dental stem cells have been shown to be able to differentiate into bone, dental tissue, cartilage, and muscle, and there is even evidence that they may be able to differentiate into neural tissue. They are being studied for applications in regenerative dentistry and medicine.
There have been hundreds of papers published by stem cell researchers over the last few decades, focused on identifying regenerative therapies or treatments for dozens of different conditions. Current medical applications generally use adult stem cells from bone marrow or cord blood to treat leukemia, certain cancers and other blood-related diseases.
Dental stem cells were discovered more recently and are being studied for a number of conditions related to the connective tissues or neural tissues in the body – including type 1 diabetes, spinal cord injury, skeletal bone loss, Muscular Dystrophy, cardiovascular diseases such as myocardial infarction and stroke, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. The first human applications of dental stem cells have been in regenerative dentistry: regrowing jaw bone and treating periodontal (gum) disease. Scientists anticipate the earliest medical applications will be for the repair of damaged tooth structures, bone regeneration, and perhaps ultimately also for the treatment of neural tissue injury or neurodegenerative diseases.
Stem cells are the "master" cells of the body. Dental stem cells differ from other stem cells in many ways:
- They are plentiful and easy to collect. Unlike harvesting bone marrow stem cells which requires invasive surgery and cord blood stem cells which are only available at birth, dental stem cells can be collected from baby teeth and wisdom teeth which would otherwise be discarded.
- Dental stem cells are adult stem cells and are not the subject of the same ethical concerns as embryonic stem cells.
Dental stem cells are complementary to stem cells from cord blood. If you banked your child’s cord blood cells, there are still potential benefits if you bank his or her dental stem cells as well. And if you missed the chance to store cord blood, you may want to consider the range of potential applications that may be possible with stem cells from your child’s teeth – either baby teeth or wisdom teeth.
Dental pulp contains mostly mesenchymal stem cells while cord blood consists predominantly of hematopoietic stem cells; bone marrow contains both types of stem cells.
While cord blood stem cells have proven valuable in the regeneration of blood cell types, dental stem cells are able to regenerate solid tissue types that cord blood cannot - such as potentially repairing connective tissues, dental tissues, neuronal tissue and bone.