Dental Hygienists' role as Educator in Stem Cell Research
By James Andrews
Stem cells are found in baby teeth that are naturally coming out and other healthy teeth being extracted, such as wisdom teeth. Dental stem cells have the potential to be used in both dental and medical applications, and have already been shown to regenerate mandibular bone and used to treat periodontal disease in human research studies. These new stem cell therapies are known as “regenerative medicine.” Research published in 2011 showed that dental stem cells can produce insulin, 1 suggesting they could eventually play a role in treating type 1 diabetes. Similar to cord blood stem cells (which have been used to treat leukemia and blood-related cancers), dental stem cells are also being studied by researchers for treating conditions such as spinal cord injury, stroke, heart attack and neurological diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
1.Refer to http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21335539 or http://www.store-a-tooth.com/applications/diabetes.php.
Case Selection: Which teeth can be saved?
Any tooth with healthy dental pulp and an active blood supply is a viable candidate for stem cell preservation: exfoliating baby teeth, teeth pulled for braces, extracted wisdom teeth.
How “wiggly” can a baby tooth be?
For baby teeth, the optimal case is where the root has not fully resorbed, e.g. where the tooth has not exfoliated past the gum line. However, as long as there is some healthy dental pulp, it’s possible to harvest the stem cells. If there is only a small amount of pulp left, we generally recommend the parents choose a cell culture service. (This is where the cells are grown briefly in culture in order to expand the number of stem cells that will be cryopreserved.)
Which is better: exfoliating deciduous teeth or permanent adult teeth?
Both. Research shows that the younger the tooth, the more proliferative the stem cells, so that points to saving baby teeth. However, wisdom teeth generally have more dental pulp, so may provide a larger quantity of stem cells that can be preserved.
Which is better: incisors, bicuspids or molars?
All can be successfully stored. There is reason to believe that exfoliating incisors or bicuspids may yield a greater amount of dental pulp. It’s often helpful to review the child’s X-rays in order to choose the best candidate for tooth collection.
How to talk about dental stem cell banking with your patients
Do you have a child who’s losing a tooth soon?
Has your child in high school or college had their wisdom teeth extracted yet?
Did you bank or consider banking your child’s cord blood?
Dental stem cell banking offers another chance to save your family’s stem cells. Banking dental stem cells with a service like Store-A-ToothTM enables families to collect and save the stem cells from their own teeth.
If you did bank your child’s cord blood, you can think of dental stem cells as complementary to cord blood stem cells (and vice versa!). Dental stem cells are more suited for solid tissue applications than those from cord blood, while cord blood contains hematopoietic stem cells and can be used for a bone marrow transplant, which dental stem cells cannot do.
Does the child have a known health condition or family risk factor?
If you know someone who has diabetes, you may be interested in hearing this. Recent research showed that stem cells from teeth can produce islet-like cells which produce insulin in a glucose-responsive manner. This is still early research, but suggests that dental stem cells may play a role in a future treatment for diabetes.
Like OBGYNs before them with cord blood, it is the role of the dental hygienist to inform and educate their patients so that they can make an educated decision about storing their adult stem cells.
You can contact James for more information at www.Store-A-Tooth.com