Should Moms Bank Their Kids’ Teeth?
You’ve undoubtedly heard of cord blood banking. It’s the process of preserving umbilical cord blood, and it’s done to save a newborn’s stem cells for future medical use. The downside with this is that there’s only a short window of time in which to make a decision. And what happens if you didn’t know saving cord blood was an option, or if you decided to take a pass on it at the time? Expecting parents and current parents have another option: Tooth banking. The following FAQs and answers can help you make an informed decision as to whether tooth banking is the right choice for your family.
What exactly is tooth banking?
Until recently, baby teeth were only considered to hold value by the child losing them. But while the couple of bucks the Tooth Fairy would pay for a tooth can be quickly spent, the potential benefits of tooth banking can remain viable for decades. Tooth banking is the process of harvesting dental stem cells from the pulp inside the tooth, and cryogenically preserving them indefinitely.
Why do parents decide to bank their kids’ teeth?
Most parents would do anything for their kids, and much of what parents do is geared toward helping their kids have a better future. After all, education is valued in part because of the future promise it holds for a rewarding career. Tooth banking similarly offers a future promise. When kids with banked teeth develop diseases, either during childhood or adulthood, the preserved stem cells can potentially be used to treat these diseases. Tooth banking offers the promise of a healthier, longer life.
Why do stem cells matter?
Your body has lots of different types of cells, but stem cells are pretty special. Stem cells can continue to divide indefinitely to provide the body with an endless supply of new cells. Each time a stem cell divides, the new cell may become another stem cell or it may specialize, for example, by becoming a red blood cell or a brain cell. It’s these regenerative abilities that make stem cells of special interest to scientists, since they offer potential for treating diseases and disorders.
What are mesenchymal stem cells?
There are a few different types of stem cells, one of which is mesenchymal stem cells. You might also hear these referred to as bone marrow stromal stem cells or skeletal stem cells. These are the stem cells preserved by tooth banking, since the developing tooth bud of a wisdom tooth and the baby teeth are particularly rich in mesenchymal stem cells. That’s because these cells are responsible for dividing into future enamel, blood vessels, dental pulp, dentin, and nerve tissue.
What’s the big deal with mesenchymal stem cells?
Mesenchymal stem cells are officially considered to be multipotent. This means they are capable of producing multiple types of specialized cells. However, research has demonstrated that mesenchymal stem cells are in actuality pluripotent. A pluripotent stem cell is essentially like a master key that will unlock any door. It’s capable of generating any type of cell or tissue that the body needs. They can also perpetually renew themselves.
Ok, so stem cells are pretty impressive. But what can doctors use them for?
Stem cells have been investigated since the 1950s. There are more than 2,000 clinical trials exploring their uses. The stem cells parents can preserve with tooth banking could be used to treat diseases and conditions. The current applications for stem cells include:
* Multiple sclerosis
* Leukemia and lymphomas
* Metabolic disorders
* Gum disease
* Cardiovascular diseases
* Spinal cord injuries
* Bone and cartilage repair
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Researchers have found that they can use mesenchymal stem cells to produce hepatocytes, and hepatocytes are being investigated as a potential cure for diabetes. Other emerging applications include:
* Type 1 diabetes
* Brain injuries
* Stroke recovery
* Corneal damage
* Hearing loss
* Cerebral palsy
* Crohn’s disease
* Heart attack damage
* Heart defects
* Kidney disease
* Muscular dystrophy
* Alzheimer’s disease
* Jawbone regeneration and facial reconstruction
* Tooth loss
The potential for stem cells to treat type 1 diabetes is particularly exciting, given that over 200,000 new cases are diagnosed each year in the U.S. alone.
My family doesn’t have to worry about type 1 diabetes. Do we?
Unfortunately, it’s possible for type 1 diabetes to affect any family. Family history and genetics may play a role in its development, but only a slight role. And unlike type 2 diabetes, being overweight or obese are not preventable causes of type 1 diabetes. It can affect even otherwise healthy individuals. Once a child develops type 1 diabetes, he or she is at risk of these serious complications:
· Cardiovascular disease
· Kidney damage
· Eye problems
· Nerve damage
How could stem cells help treat type 1 diabetes?
The research is still underway, but so far, it’s pretty exciting. Scientists have found that stem cells can be triggered to differentiate into glucose-responsive beta cells. This is important because type 1 diabetes is characterized by the attacking of the beta (insulin-producing) cells in the pancreas by the body’s own immune system cells.
Another promising advancement in type 1 diabetes treatment is the use of stem cells to “re-educate” the immune system cells in order to stop the immune system from attacking healthy beta cells.
How is tooth banking different from umbilical cord blood banking?
The stem cells harvested from umbilical cord blood are hematopoietic. This means they are capable of dividing and specializing into blood and immune-related cells, but that’s as far as their abilities extend. Since mesenchymal stem cells originating from teeth can divide and specialize into any type of cell the body requires, these have far greater possibilities in terms of medical treatments.
How many teeth need to be banked?
You could bank just one of your child’s teeth. But the more teeth you bank, the more mesenchymal stem cells you’ll save. You could decide to bank all of your child’s baby teeth. Or, if your child has already had permanent teeth for a while, you can plan to have all of the unneeded wisdom teeth extracted for preservation.
Is there any difference between banking teeth at a younger age versus at an older age?
This is a common question because it implies that one could simply have a tooth extracted at any age for use in treating a serious disease. After all, why bother banking if you aren’t sure whether the stem cells will be needed? Unfortunately, the older we get, the more worn down we get. Any exhausted parent of an overactive toddler or moody teen can attest to this. Our teeth get worn down the same as our bodies. Enamel erodes and stem cells diminish in number. It’s best to bank teeth earlier in life because that’s when the mesenchymal stem cells are healthiest.
So how can I bank my child’s teeth? Should I just wait for them to fall out?
When your child loses a baby tooth, there is a limited window of time in which the pulp remains viable. It needs to be preserved right away. That’s why tooth banking companies send out collection kits for dentists to use. Talk to your child’s dentist about harvesting his or her baby teeth or wisdom teeth to preserve the invaluable stem cells inside.
If you’d like to find out more about tooth banking for your child’s future, The Tooth Bank is always happy to answer questions. You can get in touch at 844-277-6188 to find out more about saving your child’s stem cells for future medical treatments.