How do the science of dentistry and stem cells go together?  Stem cells have long been debated in the public forum, usually in regards to cloning an individual or animal, not generally thought of in regard to teeth. This type of science brings up both ethical concerns and advancements in research with clinical applications in a whole host of areas. Stem Cells are  unspecialized cells that have the capacity to replicate themselves as well as the ability to produce highly specific cells needed for different types of tissue formation. These stem cells have been harvested from bone marrow, umbilical cord blood cells, and adipose tissues.

Possible Use Of Stem Cells In Dentistry

Recent research has proven that the tissues that form teeth, (odontogenic tissue) are a viable source of  stem cells ( Mesenchymal stem cells or MSC’s). The research has shown that the very core of the tooth (the dental pulp) especially in third molars and baby teeth, (deciduous teeth) that are getting ready to fall out, are the preferred teeth for stem cells. At this time there are millions of these teeth being surgically removed or falling out on their own every year. The potential of these cells goes untapped as they are simply discarded. These stem calls might have the ability to help individuals suffering from diseases such as, type 1 diabetes, muscular dystrophy, parkinson’s disease, and possibly spinal cord injuries. The stem cells are also being studied to see which type of useful tissues can be grown and used in repair.

In dentistry, these stem cells have not yet been proven to develop new teeth but have given some hope to dentists offering regenerative medicine to their patients. This can include the following:

-Alveolar Bone Regeneration – Allows bone regrowth in areas where bone has been lost. This can give hope to patients who have lost teeth and bone. The ability to receive dental implants can restore lost function and esthetics.

-Periodontal Tissue Regeneration – This can allow the dentist the ability to replace lost diseased tissues with healthy natural tissues thus restoring an individuals periodontal state to a healthy one.

Regenerating lost teeth with stem cells is a very difficult proposition with many hurdles to overcome. These include a unique challenge for researchers because the stem cells must be stimulated to grow the proper mixture of hard tissue, dentin and enamel, while developing into the correct size and shape. The other issue is developing teeth that have proper nerve stimulation and blood supply.

Stem Cells Collection

The silver lining in stem cell use in dentistry might be the fact that  primary teeth, which simply fall out on their own, are a major source of stem cells for future use. So, these can simply be collected and saved when they fall out with little or no discomfort to the patient.  Since you could potentially save your own child’s teeth, there would be virtually no chance of genetic rejection of the cells if needed later in life by them.

At this time there are a few laboratories nationwide that are accredited with the collection and storage of teeth for possible use at a later date. These laboratories include StemSave, BioEden, and Store-A-Tooth.

Stem Cell Conclusion

While still in its infancy, research in stem cells is developing some real promise in the science of dentistry. Teeth have been regenerated in mice and monkeys but humans will take far more work and research. If research is allowed to continue at its current pace, in the decades to come we can see some real changes in how we deal with systemic diseases as well as tooth loss. The diseases that stem cells can potentially cure or place in remission can be truly limitless. These diseases may include, leukemia, cancer, and even possibly diabetes.