Sounds like the tooth fairy might be out of a job. Some parents are now choosing to keep their children’s baby teeth. While this might sound like a standard parental tendency, it’s not for the sake of collecting mementos – these baby teeth are actually potential sources of stem cells. These cells could be frozen today, and used years down the road if the child develops a serious illness or condition.
But there’s a big “maybe” attached to the procedure – the therapy that would use these stem cells actually doesn’t exist yet. As with many aspects of cryogenics, there’s a lot of hope for the future, but not much viability in the present. And the costs involved in saving teeth are pricey. There are a few different stem cell banks available, and prices include a steep upfront deposit plus a range of $100-120 in annual fees.
Still, the idea is an intriguing one – and we explore it below. If you ever have questions about how to best treat your children’s teeth or support their dental health, get in touch with Dr. Okamura for answers.
Why Baby Teeth Have Disease-Fighting Power
Parents have already been using children’s umbilical cord blood as a safeguard against future health problems for years. This procedure is more expensive than saving baby teeth. For example, one banking provider charges $2,000 for collection, processing, and one year of storage. But those costs have already been worth the investment. Cord blood stem cells have been used to successfully treat anemia, Hodgkin’s disease, leukemia, multiple myeloma, and other conditions that once required more difficult-to-attain bone marrow transplants. Since young blood has poorly developed immune systems, there’s a reduced risk that it will attack the recipient’s body.
But umbilical cord blood needs to be harvested immediately after birth. Many parents didn’t have that option at the time. Baby teeth offer stem cells that are available later in the child’s life; a second chance for cell harvesting. These are different types of stem cells than those in umbilical cords. They’re mesenchymal stem cells, meaning they can differentiate into “lining” cells like cartilage, bone, and fat.
Can Stem Cells from Baby Teeth Really Work?
Unfortunately, dental pulp stem cells don’t have the same track record as their umbilical cord counterparts. Doctors aren’t yet sure how to use the cells in procedures associated with modern stem cell therapy. So choosing to freeze baby teeth acts as a treatment possibility, not a certainty. Mesenchymal cells have yet to be used clinically. It’s also important that these stem cell banks not prey on parents’ fears of something happening to their children or exaggerate claims of what dental pulp stem cells have been clinically proven to do.
As with any experimental medical procedure, take freezing baby teeth with a grain of salt. But rest assured that research is ongoing – the National Institutes of Health has shown the potential for these cells to yield dentin and bone. This would aid in restoring damaged teeth and bone tissues. Currently, a team at the University of Pittsburgh is studying dental pulp stem cells to learn what about their capabilities.
The Clocking is Ticking on Freezing Baby Teeth
If you do choose to store baby teeth for future stem cell harvesting, know that it needs to be done quickly. The dental pulp requires a supply of fresh blood to remain living. It will no longer be viable within 48 hours of tooth loss. Particularly loose but stubborn baby teeth may also have lost blood supply earlier than when they actually lost contact with the mouth, so it’s good to be proactive.