Scientists have been harvesting stem cells from bone marrow and using them to perform medical miracles for some time now. What may come as a shock is that stem cells can be harvested from teeth as well. Here is what to know about harvesting stem cells from your teeth.
How does this work? The soft tissue or “pulp” tissue inside your tooth is composed of many types of cells, one of which is the mesenchymal cell. These cells, also known as dental pulp stem cells (DPSCs), are the most basic cells and have the potential to change into a variety of cell types that can be used to regenerate and repair bone and tissue ultimately responsible for forming things such as cartilage, bone and fat.
How is the dental pulp harvested? Ideally, the pulp tissue from a primary (baby) tooth is utilized after extraction or natural exfoliation. Wisdom teeth can be another viable source of pulp tissue, as can immature premolars extracted for orthodontic treatment. Your dentist will package and ship the tooth immediately to a privately contracted cryogenic facility. It is here that the cells are harvested, frozen and stored for future use.
What are dental pulp stem cells used for? Stems cells have varied uses that are greatly increasing. Stroke victims, for instance, benefit through brain therapy treatments. DPSCs have the capacity to differentiate; creating the potential to repair and regenerate damaged brain tissue. This may alleviate some post-stroke symptoms such as paralysis and slurred speech. Studies are ongoing using stem cells in children with Cerebral Palsy to strengthen their one-sided weaknesses. Scientists are even researching ways to regrow missing teeth, repair bone defects, and regenerate organ tissues.
Research on dental pulp stem cells may some day progress enough to offer clear options for tissue repair and regeneration. At this time DPSCs are only being used in controlled lab settings. Some experts believe the claims are too premature regarding the use of dental pulp for medical procedures. Currently, the cost of processing and the lifetime of annual storage fees tend to make this an unfeasible option for the general public. But with the rapid rate of advancements in medical technology, this could be an important tool for more and more doctors in the coming years.
Rachel Hermann, R.D.A.