According to Dr. Ryne Johnson, prosthodontist and managing partner at Newton Wellesley Dental Partners, many people are now saving their child’s extracted teeth for stem cell preservation. While it may be a relatively new process, the development of stem cell therapy holds significant promise and banking this ‘insurance policy’ may ultimately save your child’s life or help correct a major disease later in life”.
Below are some talking points, but remember, it is important to discuss these matters with your dentist BEFORE the visit is scheduled:
What are dental pulp stem cells: Dental pulp is the soft living tissue inside a tooth. Stem cells are found inside the dental pulp. Dental pulp stem cells retain the ability to renew themselves by dividing and can change into specialized cells.
When is the best time to save stem cells: The ideal opportunity to harvest dental stem cells occurs when children and young adults are losing their deciduous (baby) teeth either thorough natural exfoliation or extraction for orthodontia. The teeth that contain the highest quantity and quality of stem cells will be those that maintain a blood supply until they are harvested.
Are these cells currently being used for treatments: Dental pulp stem cells, are being used only in laboratory settings at this time. While mesenchymal (MSC) cells are currently used in procedures such as bone marrow transplants, MSC cells from dental pulp are not yet being used for medical treatments.
What types of cells can MSC cells become?
- Cardio Myocytes which have the potential to repair damaged cardiac tissue following a heart attack.
- Myocytes which have the potential to repair muscle.
- Osteocytes which have the potential to generate bone.
- Chondrocytes which have the potential to generate cartilage.
- Neuronal which have the potential to generate nerve and brain tissue.
- Adipocytes which have the potential to generate fat tissue.
When were dental pulp stem cells first identified: Stem cells in dental pulp were discovered in 2000 by Dr. Songtao Shi, a dental researcher at the National Institute of Health (NIH). After verification that these cells were in fact viable stem cells, the NIH announced the discovery in 2003.
How long can stem cells be stored: We know that stem cells from the late 1980’s are still viable. In fact, most research indicates that stem cells frozen through a slow-rate process and stored with liquid nitrogen are viable for an indefinite period.
Why is dental pulp a great source of stem cells: Dental pulp stem cells can be harvested without controversy, in an inexpensive, non-invasive manner, unlike bone marrow and peripheral blood stem cell collection. These methods of stem cell recovery can be both painful and expensive. Umbilical cord blood, another source of stem cells, is a once in a lifetime opportunity at birth. Umbilical cord blood stem cells recovered are typically only used in disease treatment.
How is dental pulp collected: Dental pulp collection is simple and poses no risk to the client. The tooth is either extracted or is harvested when it falls our naturally. Next a sterile transport medium is used to ship the tooth to the laboratory. The lab removes the dental pulp from tooth, processes, and then cryogenically preserves and stores the stem cells.
Why do I need my dentist to harvest the teeth: It is important to have your dentist or oral surgeon work with you to harvest a healthy tooth for preservation because with their help, you will be able to remove the tooth while a good blood supply is still present. If the tooth is allowed to fall out at home, there is less possibility of finding viable stem cells.
What happens if my child’s tooth is falling out early and my dentist has not received the kit: Detailed instructions on collecting dental pulp without a collection kit on hand are available. These instructions can be faxed or e-mailed to your dentist. In an extreme emergency the tooth may be stored in milk in your refrigerator for a BRIEF period of time.
How do you prevent the stem cells from damage during the freezing process: The laboratory’s processing technique follows the FDA guidelines of minimal manipulation. The stem cells are prepped for slow-freeze by using a cryoprotectant which prevents damage. The cryoprotectant is washed out of the stem cells in the thawing. Research has shown that this methodology is the most successful in terms of cell recovery.
How are the stem cells stored: Stem cells are stored individually in a sealed cryo-container. The cryo-container is designed specifically for long-term cryogenic storage.
The container is coded and then placed in a jacketed vapor tank cooled by liquid nitrogen. This type of cooling method prevents all cross contamination.
What systems are in place to protect stem cells during long-term storage: The cryogenic facility maintains multiple levels of security. This includes back up alarm systems, 24 hour on-call staff, 24 hour temperature monitoring, and a gravity driven liquid nitrogen system which does not depend on electricity.
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