For decades now, stem cells have been a hot topic among medical experts and ethicists. There is little doubt that stem cells have enormous, even life-changing benefits. They can be used to generate new tissues, and scientists look to these cells to provide answers about genetic disorders, heart disease, and even cancer. However, stem cell research has also brought up serious ethical questions. Many oppose the use of embryonic stem cells, yet adult stem cells can be difficult to acquire. Recently, however, scientists have discovered that teeth hold a rich store of stem cells inside the dental pulp. It may be that the key to ongoing genetic research lies in tooth extraction. In this post your Garland, TX dentist explores this growing new technology and the exciting possibilities it could have for future scientific research.
The Importance of Stem Cells
Stem cells are unique for two reasons. First, they have the ability to divide repeatedly, even after long periods of dormancy. Second, although they have an unspecified function, stem cells are able to take on the function of other cells. For example, under the right conditions, they can actually become kidney or bone marrow cells. Because of these characteristics, stem cell research has enormous potential. Scientists hope that one day stem cells will offer the cure for heart disease, and some believe that these cells could one day eliminate the need for organ transplants.
The Benefits of Dental Stem Cells
A little over ten years ago, researchers found that teeth contain a huge number of stem cells. At first, scientists and dentists were slow to grasp the full potential of this discovery, but in recent years, the use of dental stem cells has started to increase. Innovative companies have founded dental stem cell banks, facilities where patients can send their lost or extracted teeth to be harvested for stem cells. Once they are extracted, scientists freeze the cells and hold them in reserve. More and more parents are choosing to send their children’s lost baby teeth to these facilities; they hope that if their child ever develops a serious illness, this reserve of stem cells will provide a much needed cure. Patients benefit the most from cell-based therapy when they are treated with their own stem cells, so there is great promise in this new form of stem cell harvesting.
What This Means for Dentistry
In addition to growing organ tissue, scientists also hope that one day dental stem cells can be used to restore dental tissue. Early research from across the globe suggests that stem cells could actually regenerate damaged or decayed dental pulp. Though there have been no experiments with human teeth, animal experiments have proved highly successful. Some dentists believe that cell-based therapy could one day replace root canals and pulp therapy. Whether or not this ever happens, one thing is certain: as we discover more and more about the nearly untapped potential of dental stem cells, we are sure to see sweeping changes in the medical and dental fields.
About Dr. Mai: Dr. Vi H. Truong-Mai, DDS received her Bachelor’s in Biology from the University of Dallas, and went on to get her Doctorate in Dental Science from the Baylor College of Dentistry in Dallas. She is dedicated to providing outstanding general, restorative, and cosmetic treatments to patients in Garland, Plano, Richardson, Wylie, Allen, and the Dallas area.