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Ripe for harvest
About three years ago, I wrote an article about the futuristic advances in dentistry that we could only dream of. I thought I was being clever in discussing the idea of re-growing teeth from stem cells and cited a project that had succeeded in growing a mouse tooth from implanted stem cells. The stuff of science fiction, or so I thought.
A year later I was at an exhibition and stopped at a stand where I was introduced to a business that is based on saving extracted teeth in order to harvest stem cells for future use, should the original owner need life-saving therapy. There are several such businesses now and the concept is literally a gamble. The average donor is young, as the most common teeth to keep are naturally lost deciduous teeth or permanent ones extracted for orthodontic reasons. The tooth is rushed to the service centre where the stem cells are extracted and frozen for storage. The average cost is about £1500 for thirty years storage and as of right now, there is not a lot one can do with them, or so I thought again.
The projection is that current research in the use of stem cells will be driving practical results in the very near future. There are different types of stem cell, and the dental pulp contains a multitude of stem cells with the potential to regenerate bone, cardiac tissue and cartilage. Most importantly, it contains mesenchymal cells, those with the ability to become various types of regenerative cell. Mesenchymal cells (though not those from the teeth) have already been used to repair spinal-cord injury and are thought to have the potential to treat such degenerative disorders as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other neurological conditions. Other types of stem cell transplants are now being used for treatment of certain cancers and sickle cell anaemia. So this is very real, right now. I am told that cells work better when donated by the patient prior to treatment, your own cells are better tolerated.
I can foresee a time very soon when it will be considered negligent not to offer stem cell storage following extraction. The opportunity should not be missed and could save a patient`s life sometime in the future. If they have not been at least advised of the possibility in previous years, then you might be at risk for the omission.
Dr John Shapter – QCS Expert Dental Contributor