Nine-year-old Evangeline was at the dentist to have two baby teeth removed before her braces could be put on the following week. Her mom, Michelle Warren, wasn’t asking the dentist to give the teeth back — so that they could be placed under Evangeline’s pillow for the tooth fairy. No, the Fort Worth mom came to the office with a kit (where the teeth would be placed), which would be picked up by a courier and sent to a lab. Warren is banking her daughter’s baby teeth because the living dental pulp inside those teeth contains stem cells.
And banking these cells is becoming a growing trend.
You’re likely familiar with the concept of banking. You were probably asked if you wanted to store the stem cell-rich umbilical cord blood if you gave birth in a hospital or birthing center.
Well, those same stem cells that exist in cord blood have also been found in a variety of human tissues such as bone marrow, fat and baby teeth too — good for parents who missed the boat on banking their child’s cord blood.
Stem cells are essentially biological wild cards. Research shows that stem cells harvested from baby teeth may have the potential to be manipulated into a variety of cells to repair damaged teeth, induce the regeneration of bone or restore damaged or malfunctioning cells and help treat future cancers, diabetes, heart disease and neural conditions like Parkinson’s, depending on ongoing technology and medical advancements. Think of it this way: The stem cells in baby teeth might hold the key to a life-saving treatment in your child’s adulthood. And according to the National Institutes of Health, stem cells remain one of the most promising frontiers in medical research.
“Dental stem cell preservation offers an abundance of benefits for a patient’s future,” says Dr. Maxwell Finn, who is licensed in both dentistry and medicine and practices at Oral Surgery Associates of North Texas in Dallas. “Because research and technology are advancing so rapidly, it’s a worthwhile investment.”
Despite its exciting potential, however, some experts say it’s premature to consider dental pulp stem cells as a source to replace or regenerate tissue.
To collect dental stem cells, a dentist must extract the baby tooth when it starts to get wiggly (which takes some of the fun out of the process for kids) and then prep it with materials from a special kit provided by the chosen stem cell bank (there are currently five such banks in the United States — BioEden, National Dental Pulp Laboratory, Inc. (NDPL), StemSave, Tooth Bank and Store-A-Tooth), where it’s sent and cryogenically frozen until it’s needed.
One-time fees range from $375 to over $1,700 plus annual storage fees of $115–$200. So do the potential benefits of preserving your child’s baby teeth justify the expense?
With dental stem cells, you have at least 24 chances (that’s the number of baby teeth plus wisdom teeth) to gather cells that can potentially be transformed into other cells, including cardiac, muscle, bone, cartilage, nerve and fat tissue. Though research is ongoing and the future looks promising, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has yet to approve the use of dental stem cells in any medical procedure.
Advocates, however, are hopeful that the successes with umbilical cord stem cells will hasten the approval process for dental stem cell therapies in the next several years.
At this point, “storing dental stem cells is essentially a bet against future problems,” Finn says. Which might be an advantage for young people today, who are projected to have life spans of 100-plus years.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that parents talk to their pediatric dentist about dental stem cell banking. Then if you’re interested, read up on all your options to find the one that best fits your needs and budget.
That’s what Warren did. She and her husband opted out of banking the umbilical cord blood when Evangeline was born because of the expense. “And I regretted it almost immediately,” she admits. “Diabetes runs in my family. By banking Evangeline’s dental stem cells, I feel like I’m giving her biological insurance for her future.”
This article was first published in the February 2017 issues of DallasChild, CollinChild, FortWorthChild and NorthTexasChild.