Dental Stem Cell Research

Author: Kimberly N. Powell, DDS, MS

This month the Academy of General Dentistry published an article about dental stem cell banking. Stem cells are biological unspecialized cells that have the capability to become “tissue- or organ-specific cells with special functions” National Institutes of Health (NIH). Let’s say that a stem cell is a piece of thread that can become a shirt, dress, boot, or purse by signaling it to do so. In the article, it is noted that stems cells found in the umbilical cord and teeth, especially baby teeth, are easy to obtain. In baby teeth, the best tissue is from extracted teeth, not from loose teeth or ones that have shed on their own because of minimal nerve tissue remaining. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, type I diabetes, bone regrowth, tissue growth after a heart attack, and tooth regeneration can possibly be managed by dental stem cells. Although research is ongoing and the process of dental stem cell banking is fairly new, there are tooth banking companies available with varying fees. The procedure consists of the dentist extracting the tooth, storing it according to the dental bank’s recommendation, and overnighting the package to the bank by the dentist or patient. There, the stem cells will be extracted from the pulp, grown, and frozen. The future health of anyone is unpredictable but to have a resource now that considers this uncertainty is invaluable. Research into successfully signaling dental stem cells into specialized tissue continues and it must if it is to be a potential source of future therapies.