When patients come into your office, what do you talk to them about? If you’re like many dentists, your conversations largely revolve around proper oral hygiene, as well as explaining any necessary interventions, like fillings or root canals. Those are important issues and should be addressed, but there are other conversations that your patients could benefit from, such as the advantages of banking dental stem cells. A relatively new practice, many patients may not know about dental stem cell banking, and broaching this conversation could change lives.
Why Dental Stem Cells
Most people are familiar with banking umbilical cord blood, and they may be presented with the option during prenatal care or encounter it in the course of their own research. Banking a child’s dental stem cells, however, isn’t as likely to come up unless a parent is specifically looking for alternative sources of stem cells due to an emergency. Even then, they may not understand their options or what the process means – and by the time an emergency arises, dental stem cell banking may not be an option.
Both baby teeth and wisdom teeth are good sources of mesenchymal stem cells, which is ideal since this creates two different windows of opportunity for tooth banking. Parents can bank their children’s baby teeth as they fall out or talk to their children about what they want to do as they near adulthood and their wisdom teeth emerge. This isn’t a once in a lifetime opportunity the way that cord blood banking is, which can help patients make informed decisions.
In addition to not being as well-known as cord blood banking, some people may overlook the possibility of tooth banking because they assume that the stem cells found in teeth are not as useful as those found in cord blood. This is a common misconception stemming from the fact that most sources break down stem cells into adult or tissue stem cells, which are generally organ-specific and embryonic or pluripotent stem cells, which can become virtually any kind of stem cell.
Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), the type of stem cell found in teeth, fall into a gap between these two types of stem cells and are what’s known as multipotent stem cells. As multipotent stem cells, MSCs are able to become a wide variety of tissue types, but not as many as those pluripotent stem cells found in cord blood. So, while the distinction between the adult and embryonic stem cells is broadly helpful, it is ultimately too narrow to describe MSCs, which research has determined can actually be used in a number of ways.
How might families go on to use MSCs derived from their children’s teeth? According to Tooth Bank, a dental stem cell storage facility, these cells can be used to treat leukemia and lymphoma, to repair issues related to spinal cord injuries, in metabolic syndromes and diabetes, and even multiple sclerosis. Other research indicates they can be used to regenerate corneal cells in the event of illness or injury, and, of course, MSCs can be used as an intervention for tooth decay and gum disease.
Research into MSCs is ongoing and a high priority for researchers, and new applications are constantly emerging, further driving the importance of discussing dental stem cell banking with your patients. While current applications already represent a powerful array of interventions, much more is on the horizon.
Dentistry’s Best Interest
While dentists may not have much professional investment in whether or not their patients are able to use dental stem cells to treat cancer, nervous system injuries, or other ailments, but research into using MSCs to treat tooth decay is another story. This is technology that could change everything about how dentistry works, especially when it comes to addressing the most severe oral health complaints. In fact, used wisely, MSCs could mean patients, at least those receiving semi-regular care, would no longer need invasive restorative procedures like dental implants – if they bank their teeth earlier in life.
At present, most dentists don’t have access to stem cell treatments; it is a laboratory-based intervention, not a practical one, but that is how all major treatments begin. By the time today’s children are adults, though, their stored dental stem cells could be used in widely available treatments. This is what the dental industry and patients have to look forward to, even beyond the many other medical benefits of MSCs.
Though it may not be on your agenda right now, as care providers, it’s our job to ensure our patients know all of their treatment options, even if those treatments may not be necessary for years to come, and that’s why we need to talk about dental stem cell banking. It’s hard to project into the future when cavities and gingivitis need to be addressed right now, but looking ahead comes with benefits that we can’t deny.