Stem cell research has exploded in the last 20 years, so it should come as no surprise that a major segment of medicine, such as dentistry, would have its fair share of researchers attempting to make new scientific breakthroughs.  

Those breakthroughs are, by all accounts, at least several years away from your local dentist’s office, but they’re close enough that you might want to think twice before throwing away your child’s next lost tooth. Read on to find out why.


What is Dental Stem Cell Therapy?

Dental stem cell therapy primarily involves dental pulp stem cells (DPSCs), named for the mesenchymal stem cells found in the core of baby teeth and wisdom teeth. The term can apply to therapy intended to heal injuries in the teeth or gums and any research efforts to use DPSCs in healing injuries throughout the human body.

Stem cells are amazing, naturally produced “raw materials” that can multiply and differentiate into new cells. This enables them to promote healing and even grow new tissue. As we will see, DPSCs are unique among other types of stem cells in that they are found in body parts that are routinely removed for medical reasons, or that simply fall out when a person reaches a certain age.


The Current State of Stem Cell Therapy in Dentistry

The scientific community has known since at least 2000 that adult teeth could be a source of stem cells. In 2011, a study led by a doctor at the Butantan Institute in Sao Paulo, Brazil showed deciduous (baby) teeth were an “almost unlimited source of young stem cells with easy access.” The study also seconded previous research suggesting that baby teeth could be frozen, stored, and later unthawed. A researcher or doctor could then use the cells for the patient or one of their family members at a later date. 

In late 2018, human trials were conducted in China by the University of Pennsylvania on 40 children with an injured permanent tooth. The researchers found pulp stem cells extracted from the subjects’ baby teeth and implanted into the injured tooth led to healthy root development, thicker dentin, increased blood flow, and even restored sensation in the injured tooth. 

Today, so-called “stem cell banking” is a thriving industry with various companies around the world offering to extract and cryogenically store children’s DPSCs. These companies claim that stem cells have been successfully used after being stored for 22 years for a variety of applications. They further claim that the donor could use the stored cells for medical problems including cancer, cardiovascular disease,  multiple sclerosis, and metabolic disorders.


What the Future May Hold

Medical progress can be achingly slow with human trials in the United States often taking years to complete. According to the federal government, it takes about a decade to get a new drug approved. Thus, many industry experts predict we are at least 10 years away from widely available dental stem cell therapies. As of August 2019, lists just under two dozen dental stem cell trials currently active in the entire world, nine of them in the United States. So although research is ongoing, some ideas are farther along than others. DPSC studies have been plagued by low survival rates of the transplanted stem cells.

These are a few of the possibilities researchers are hoping to develop into real-world applications:


Replacing IPSCs and Tissue Engineering

Because dental pulp stem cells are highly proliferative and differentiate well, researchers see them as a suitable alternative to iPSCs (induced pluripotent stem cells), which in turn have been the hoped-for replacement for embryonic stem cells. Although iPSCs have potential to treat a wide variety of illnesses, there have also been troubling results of tumors in mice in trials. iPSCs are prone to develop cancer as a result of the laboratory manipulations necessary to create them in the first place.  

DPSCs could be used autologously (extracted from and applied to the same person), meaning an immune system response is highly unlikely. A handful of studies over the last decade have indicated DPSCs could serve in treating or aiding recovery from traumatic brain and spinal cord injury, glaucoma and retinal damage, stroke, and more.

In addition, it’s reasonable to assume–and the trials seem to confirm–that because of their powerful abilities, DPSCs could be used in tissue engineering to regenerate the liver, esophageal, bladder, bone, and other body parts.


Regrowing Teeth

The ability to regrow a tooth and implant it when needed is the dream for dental stem cell researchers. The problem? The only known method involves the use of embryonic stem cells, because adults don’t have the cells that make teeth. And while this has been done in mice, the ethical concerns and legal restrictions against using human embryos presents an obstacle that has not yet been overcome. DPSCs have already shown promise in preliminary attempts to regrow teeth, and may soon find their way into clinical use for this application. 


Stimulating Teeth

In lieu of growing a completely new tooth, the next best thing may be to simply stimulate the stem cells in the pulp of a decayed tooth. Researchers successfully did just that in a mouse study published in 2017. They used collagen sponges to deliver low doses of glycogen synthase kinase (GSK-3) antagonists that naturally regulate dentine production. Holes drilled in the teeth of the mice to simulate cavities were completely repaired in weeks. Another study demonstrated that extracting stem cells from a child’s tooth and using them on an adult’s injured teeth may soon be a viable option.


Get Started with Stem Cell Therapy Today!

If you’re interested in taking advantage of the latest stem cell dentistry developments, Bunker Hill Dentistry can help. When you come in to have a tooth extracted, let us know you want to have it saved for stem cell banking and we will assist you in making the arrangements.