When you think about your teeth, you are probably associating them with anything from beauty to functioning as you chew food, speak and possibly plan your next dental visit. But your teeth have capabilities that might surprise you – they could be a future source of stem cells.
Far from having to remove a good tooth, stem cells can be extracted from a tooth that is being pulled anyway. Or, you could obtain stem cells from primary teeth once they fall out, assuming a plan is put in place to do so early on in a child’s life.
Dental Pulp from Extracted Teeth
A recent Japanese study suggests that dental pulp taken from an extracted tooth could be a very efficient and simple source of stem cells. These stem cells can then be coaxed to differentiate into a number of cell types in your body. The bonus is that they are pluripotent stem cells, which avoids the controversy associated with embryonic stem cells.
Harvesting Stem Cells
Research into stem cells taken from around the body is exciting because it avoids the ethical issues associated with embryonic stem cells. Yet the process to harvest these stem cells is fraught with complications and challenges. The procedures used are often highly invasive.
Finding New Stem Cell Sources
For this reason, researchers are constantly seeking out new sources that are easier to harvest and develop in the laboratory. Recently, an attempt was made to culture stem cells from dental pulp, which is quite easily taken from extracted teeth.
Viable Stem Cell Lines
Researchers tested six cell lines and were able to produce five viable ones, showing very promising results for this source of stem cells. Even more promising was that these lines were genetically compatible with approximately twenty percent of the Japanese population.
Creating a Stem Cell Bank from Teeth
In this way, a pluripotent stem cell ‘bank’ of sorts could potentially be created in the future, providing stem cells to many people in the population. Additional studies may show even more cell line matches that surpass the twenty percent shown in this particular study.
Avoiding Ethical Issues
Another positive aspect of the study is that these teeth were not extracted simply for the purposes of the study. The teeth were planned for extraction anyway, and would simply have been discarded.
As a source of stem cells, they satisfy the requirements for easy harvesting and ethical concerns. Another benefit is that primary teeth are all lost at some point.
As such, it makes them especially attractive as a source of stem cells, where a person’s own teeth could provide stem cells that help them in the future. It would simply require early planning to ensure that primary teeth are kept and used for stem cell harvesting.
Researchers do warn that we are still a long period of time away from translating the findings into actual treatments. They also state that stem cells from teeth will not be a ‘cure’ for all disease. These cells will, however, provide an ethical, efficient and non-invasive way to obtain stem cells that are compatible with many people in the population.