For a little kid, losing your first baby tooth is as exciting as it is shocking. After all, you just got these teeth - so why are they starting to fall out all of the sudden? You did everything you were supposed to do, including brushing and flossing every morning and night. Well, you might have skipped flossing every other day ... but other than that, your teeth were in tip-top shape!
Next thing you know, your parents are telling you about the "Tooth Fairy," a magical being who will trade you some money for your old tooth - what a deal! After all, what could be so special about an old tooth anyways? A lot, as it turns out.
The next time your child has a loose tooth, you might want to give the Tooth Fairy a call and tell her to sit this one out. Teeth contain stem cells in their dental pulp. You've probably heard of stem cells in the context of various controversies surrounding stem cell research, but that only makes up a small fraction of the work that is being done with them. Check out the images below to learn more about how your children's baby teeth might hold the key to saving lives in the future.
Stem cells, like the ones found in baby teeth, can give rise to an indefinite number of cells just like them, as well as other, different types of cells. Thus, stem cells can help regenerate neurons, bones, and cartilage in patients. Sounds great, right?
People undergoing chemotherapy are currently benefitting from the stem cells found in umbilical cord blood, and another potential source of these life-saving cells, like baby teeth, would be a huge advancement.
Unfortunately, the technology to use the stem cells found in teeth has yet to be developed, so anyone choosing to store their children's teeth in a bank is betting on the fact that scientists will be able to use them when the need arises. One of the major benefits of banking your own stem cells is that it cuts down on your body's likelihood of rejecting those cells in the future. This is a risk you run when you receive stem cells from a donor, as we've done with bone marrow transplants in the past.
For those of you wondering what the harm is in banking teeth "just in case," it's because storing them doesn't come without a hefty price tag. You can't exactly walk down the street to your local bank and ask them to throw some teeth in a safety deposit box. After everyone gave you some weird looks, they'd tell you that teeth need to be stored by a company like "Store-A-Tooth" or "Tooth Bank." (Pictured below: a stem cell under a microscope.)
These reputable organizations charge you a little over $1,000 for your initial storage, plus roughly another $100 per year for as long as the teeth remain in their care. That might sound like a lot of money, but the future application of those stem cells is priceless.
After all, the stem cells found in umbilical cord blood are already capable of treating up to 70 different diseases.
Do alligator teeth contain life-saving stem cells? Maybe, but I don't want to find out ...
But, Dr. Curt Calvin, a professor at Johns Hopkins University specializing in cancer research, says that we might not want to hold our breath.
"The tooth cells may never be used," he said when asked by ABC News as to whether or not parents should bank their children's baby teeth.
Instead, he advocates for donating umbilical cord blood, since it is already being used to help people in need. But that's just one man's opinion.
Banked teeth have the potential to save a lot of lives in the future, we just don't know when exactly that day will come.
If you have the means to afford banking teeth, great. If not, it shouldn't keep you up at night. Consult your dentist about what may be the best plan for you and your family moving forward. At the very least, the future of stem cells looks bright. And who knows, maybe the Tooth Fairy has been banking our baby teeth all along and is about to unveil her research on how to use them.
H/T: Tip Hero