Children's teeth may be more valuable than a quarter under their pillow from the Tooth Fairy.
“It has been recently discovered that there are stem cells in the pulp chamber of these teeth” said Todd Flower, the director of research at GeneCell International.
The same type of stem cells used in research at the University of Miami to repair damaged hearts can be found in children's teeth, so officials at GeneCell International are reaching out to parents to bank the dental pulp stem cells in their freezers in West Kendall.
“Ideally we would like to get the child’s tooth extracted once it becomes loose," Flower said. "If it falls out, you lose the blood supply to the tissue inside the tooth. Therefore the cells would die.”
A dentist would have to extract the loose tooth, put it in a special collection bottle, and send it to GeneCell's laboratory, where they process then store the cells at 340 degrees below zero.
Dr Jeffrey Kane is a dentist in Aventura who volunteers at The Robert Morgan Dental Clinic in Southwest Miami-Dade.
He sees an unneeded extraction as a concern.
“Even though you know it’s going to come out at a future date, to pull it prematurely may be a tough sell for a lot of children," he said. "I know for my children it would be a tough sell.”
He says another option would be using teeth that need to be extracted before braces or wisdom teeth.
There's also the issue of cost. Dental pulp services including processing and storage for up to four teeth at once runs from $695 for a year to $2,295 for 20 years.
Flower points out that in the future “these cells probably could be used to treat many debilitating conditions like Parkinson’s, potentially spinal cord injury, even diabetes."
Dr. Joshua Hare, the director of the Interdisciplinary Stem Cell Institute at UM Miller School of medicine, said it's too early to say how much impact baby teeth can have on future medical breakthroughs.
While the research is extremely encouraging, Hare said "we can't say right now for sure it would be useful in the future, but it doesn't hurt to bank these cells if cost is not a problem."
He also points out it's unclear if frozen stem cells from a child's tooth will still be good to use 50 or 60 years later when they might be needed.
Fat happens to be another rich source of these promising stem cells. GeneCell says banking the fat extracted during liposuction might be in the near future.