Stem cell research is among the most hotly debated topics in medicine. For years, the focus has been mostly on cloning humans and animals—remember Dolly the sheep, the first mammal to be cloned using stem cells?
Scientists now believe that the use of stem cells could have significant implications for modern dentistry.
Stem cells, which doctors harvest from adipose tissues, umbilical cord blood cells, and bone marrow, have the unique ability to replicate themselves.
These unspecialized cells also can be used to form specific cells found in certain types of tissues.
Stem Cells and Your Teeth: What’s the Connection?
Odontogenic tissue, which forms your teeth, has been identified as a potentially viable target for stem cell harvesting. The mass of nerves and tissue in the innermost chamber of each tooth, known as the pulp, may be the most promising source of stem cells. This applies especially to baby teeth and the third molars.
When you consider how many teeth are lost or removed each year in the United States alone, it’s exciting to think about the possibilities of such a rich, abundant supply of stem cells. Could they eventually benefit patients who have muscular dystrophy, Type I diabetes, or Parkinson’s disease?
Proponents of stem cell therapy argue that harvesting cells would be as simple as saving one’s baby teeth when they fall out—no additional procedures, no discomfort. A parent could save a child’s teeth, which would eliminate the risk of genetic rejection if reintroduced later in life.
Implications for Regenerative Dentistry
Can we grow new teeth from stem cells? Not yet, but this may be a possibility one day. Additional implications include:
- Regeneration of gum tissue lost to periodontal disease
- Regeneration of alveolar bone, making patients who have bone loss more suitable candidates for restorative dentistry such as dental implants
The fact that scientists have been able to regenerate missing teeth in monkeys and mice is certainly interesting, but does not offer a concrete plan of action for human patients.
The optimism stems not only from the potential ability to regrow teeth, but also from the possibility that stem cells may treat medical conditions that adversely impact the health of patients’ teeth and gums.
Certain challenges must be overcome. For example, we are not yet certain how to grow the optimal combination of dentin, enamel, and hard tissue. How will we perfect the shape and size of the teeth? We must also determine the best way to ensure an adequate blood supply and appropriate nerve stimulation to the growing tooth.
Although the initial research appears promising, more is needed to determine exactly how dentists can use stem cells and tissue to benefit patients’ teeth and gums.
Have your teeth been affected by decay or gum disease? To learn more about treatment options, or to schedule an appointment with Dr. Janice Spada, contact our Sudbury, MA dentist office at (978) 443-3111. We are proud to serve patients living in and around Boston, including Framingham, Worcester, Sudbury, Marlborough, and the neighboring communities.