Banking Teeth for Stem Cells

Dentistry Today


Deciduous and wisdom teeth, along with jawbone and periodontal ligament, are noncontroversial sources of stem cells that could be “banked” for future health needs, according to a National Institutes of Health researcher who spoke at the ADA’s recent national media conference in New York City. Harvested from the pulp layer inside the teeth and from jawbone and periodontal ligament, these stem cells may one day correct periodontal defects and cleft palate and may help restore nerve cells lost in diseases such as Parkinson’s. (The stem cells from jawbone and teeth share a common origin with nerve tissue.) The stem cells have the potential to save injured teeth and grow jawbone. Regenerating an entire tooth is on the horizon, and years from now cells from teeth and jawbone might be used to correct cleft palate, one of the most common birth defects, sparing children multiple surgeries. In time, individuals may be able to bank their own stem cells from baby and wisdom teeth, similar to the way umbilical cord blood is stored. At present, commercial facilities to store stem cells from teeth are not available. The viability of stem cells derived from baby teeth is determined by when the tooth comes out. The longer a loose tooth is left in the mouth to fall out on its own, the less viable it is as a source of stem cells. To extract the stem cells from teeth, researchers can remove the periodontal ligament, drill into the tooth to remove the crown, and then extract the pulp, which is placed in an enzyme solution to release the stem cells. From jawbone, cells can be isolated by collecting marrow following a tooth extraction, for example, or by biopsy. It may be years before research in the field reaches the point where it would be practical for people to start banking their teeth for stem cells.

(Source: American Dental Association, June 8, 2005).