Research has now revealed a link between stem cells and children’s teeth. This means your child’s baby teeth are more than just a keepsake – they could be life-saving.
Stem cells in teeth
Stem cells can be found in especially high concentrations in the healthy dental pulp of teeth. Studies have found that stem cells in a baby’s milk teeth tend to be less exposed to environmental damage compared to adult teeth and can help generate new cell growth.
The discovery of stem cells in dental pulp has led to much research. Dr Pamela Robey of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research says, currently, no one knows the full potential of these stem cells. “What we do know is the cells from dental pulp in baby or wisdom teeth have the ability to make dentin and pulp and they might have the ability to make bone.”
This means scientists are one step closer to this reality. Professor and chair of anatomy and cell biology at Penn Dental Medicine, Songtao Shi, has been researching the possibility of dental stem cells over a decade, after discovering the stem cells in his daughter’s teeth. He, along with colleagues in China, have conducted clinical trials that reveal promising results.
Dentin is the innermost hard layer of the tooth that lies beneath the enamel. Underneath the dentin is a soft tissue known as pulp, which contains the nerve tissue and blood supply. Dental stem cells, officially known as deciduous pulp stem cells can be used to regrow dental tissue or pulp. Professor Shi believes there are stem cells within the teeth that are able to activate and make dentin.
How do stem cells help to strengthen teeth?
Professor Shi’s work, recently published in Science Translational Medicine, looked at children who had injured one of their permanent incisors and still had baby teeth. Stem cells were extracted from healthy baby teeth, reproduced in lab conditions, and then implanted in the injured tooth. Those who received the stem cells had healthier signs of root development, thicker dentin and increased blood flow, and a year after the procedure, the injured tooth had even regained some sensation. This is great news, because as it’s the child’s own stem cells, there is less chance of rejection.
Professor Shi explains this is the first step looking at using these stem cells for treating systemic diseases and other broader applications.
The researchers believe there’s strong support that this science could be lifesaving, with future applications looking at how these stem cells can form tissue such as bone, nerve, muscle and blood vessels.
The future of stem cell technology
Storing baby teeth is becoming big business overseas, with stem cell dental banks opening in the UK, America and Canada. It looks like it’s just a matter of time before it becomes available in SA.
“We’re really eager to see what we can do in the dental field,” Professor Shi says, “…And then building on that to open up channels for systemic disease therapy.”
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Kim Bell is a wife, mother of two teenagers and a lover of research and the way words flow and meld together. She has been in the media industry for over 20 years, and yet still learns more about life from her children everyday.