Move over tooth fairy, modern medicine has found a new life for lost teeth.
Inside baby teeth is dental pulp, which contains living connective tissue and stem cells.
That’s why dentists now suggest that parents should preserve their child’s baby teeth in case your child is ever afflicted by a disease like macular degeneration, spinal cord injury, stroke, burns, heart disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis (1).
Save The Tooth
Stem cells are special because they can develop into virtually any cell type, such as skin, muscle, or bone. They are widely found in the brain, bone marrow, blood, blood vessels, skeletal muscles, skin, and the liver, where they lie dormant until you experience disease or injury.
Adult stem cells normally divide and self-renew indefinitely, allowing your body to repair itself or even regenerate the affected organ (in the case of the liver) (2).
Stem cell research has moved towards baby teeth because they are much hardier and multiply more quickly than other stem cells. Plus, they’re “young” cells that haven’t experienced oxidative stress and other damage from the aging process, meaning that they can be more potent when cryogenically preserved than cells harvested later in life.
Dr. Songtao Shi, a researcher at the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research explains: “While the SHED [stem cells from human exfoliated deciduous teeth] cells were slow to start growing, after a short time they multiplied rapidly and were found to live longer and be more robust than previously studied adult stem cells. They were also capable of differentiating into dental pulp and neural and fat cells.”(3).
The biggest benefit of saving baby teeth is that it’s a non-invasive pain-free way to harvest mesenchymal stem cells (4).
The most common way to collect stem cells is through bone marrow extraction, which requires a few hours of syringe work, a few days of recovery, and can be quite painful.
Stem cells can also be collected from the blood over the course of a few weeks (sometimes requiring chemotherapy to boost stem cell production) or through umbilical cord blood, which provides too few cells to be used by an adult (5).
Stem cells are often donated by family members since the person in need may be too sick to have their own cells harvested. Like with any donation, it is possible for the body to reject donated stem cells. When you preserve your child’s cells, there is no risk of rejection should they ever need stem cell therapy (6).
How To Preserve Baby Teeth
Many companies have sprouted up to fill this need including Store-a-Tooth and BioEden. Most partner up with dentists to extract loose baby teeth and have them quickly sent over in temperature-controlled kits for cryopreservation (7).
The stem cells are collected and cultured to encourage them to multiply without specializing themselves before being frozen. The remainder of the tooth is also set aside and preserved.
The procedure is expensive upfront, costing roughly 600$ upfront and 90$ a year for storage costs. Companies insist that this cost is much more affordable than the cost of a bone marrow transplant or other stem cell-related interventions.
But then again, if it means saving your child from a devastating illness down the road, it may be worth it in the end.