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Dental Stem Cells
This growing science has great potential.
Clinicians in all fields of medicine agree that human stem cells offer many different, exciting clinical possibilities. In their early stages, stem cells have the ability to become many different types of cells, and can even serve as an “internal repair system,” dividing almost without limit to replenish other cells.1 Stem cells can be extremely helpful in therapy for people suffering from an array of ailments, including forms of leukemia, blood disorders, immune system disorders, and degenerative diseases.2 While most people interested in stem cell research know that they can bank stem cells from umbilical cord blood, they are often less familiar with the fact that stem cells can also be extracted from the pulp in extracted teeth.
Currently, research regarding dental stem cells is still in its infancy, but there is a wealth of prospective clinical uses for these cells. Peter Verlander, PhD, is a molecular geneticist and the Chief Scientific Officer at Provia Laboratories, one of many laboratories offering dental stem cell banking. Verlander describes that there have been a number of dental stem cell studies that cover a diverse range of clinical topics, from regrowing bone, to healing spinal cord injuries, to creating islet cells for treating Type 1 diabetes. “While we can’t guarantee what breakthroughs will come from today’s research, the clinical applications of dental stem cells show powerful potential to provide therapies for some of the most prevalent conditions affecting people today who are suffering from degenerative diseases, inherited diseases, or catastrophic injuries,” says Verlander.
The technology to extract and preserve dental stem cells has only been around for about a decade, but due to their potential, interest in the science is gaining speed. More and more dentists are offering the service to their patients, even though there are only a handful of uses for these stem cells currently. “I often tell my patients that banking dental stem cells is like taking out an insurance policy,” says Jeffrey Eisner, DMD, an oral surgeon. Eisner’s practice has been offering patients the option of banking dental stem cells for a little over a year. “Right now you’re not sure what you can get out of it, because we don’t know where the technology will be in five to ten years, and you hope that you will never have to use them to find out, but it’s good to know they’re there.”
Sending extracted teeth to laboratories to harvest dental stem cells does not require any extra work on the part of the dentist, as it does not affect the tooth extraction process whatsoever. “We take the tooth out, just like we always do, and instead of discarding the tooth as medical waste, we drop it in a container and send it off to the company. It is really very easy,” explains Jeffrey Tocci, DDS, an esthetic and cosmetic dentist. “It’s just one more service that we can easily offer our patients, and it is something that may really benefit them in the future,” he adds.
In addition to how easy it is to send the extracted teeth for stem cell harvesting, the service comes at no cost to the dental office. “The laboratory provides us with all of the tools we need, which is basically the tooth storage container, a sterile solution, and boxes and cold packs to ship the tooth with. It is a great service to provide to our patients,” explains Eisner.
Once the extracted tooth is sent to the processing laboratory, a technician will cut the tooth open to extract the dental stem cells. The cells are then cryopreserved for future use. According to Verlander, assuming that all went well during the freezing process, banked stem cells should be viable indefinitely. “Once they’re down to ultra-low temperatures, all biological activity has stopped. Theoretically, whether they are at that temperature for a week, a month, a year, or 100 years, it should not make a difference,” he says. Verlander notes that though the technology is only a decade old, there have already been dental stem cells that have been successfully thawed after years in cryopreservation. He also mentions that other types of stem cells, like those from umbilical cord blood, have survived even longer than that. “There’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to store these cells for many, many years,” he explains.
While a relatively new science, dental stem cell research offers incredible possibilities to help people with a variety of ailments in the very near future. For clinicians, giving patients the option of banking their dental stem cells is a cutting-edge way for them to join this growing field.
1. National Institute of Health. Stem Cell Information. Available at: http://stemcells.nih.gov/info/basics/. Updated April 28, 2019. Accessed October 17, 2012.
2. Parents Guide to Cord Blood Foundation. Diseases Treated. Available at: http://parentsguidecordblood.org/diseases.php. Updated October 3, 2012. Accessed October 17, 2012.