When a kid loses a tooth, it usually ends up with the tooth fairy or in the trash. But what many parents don’t know is those tiny teeth have huge potential for healing.
Baby (or deciduous) teeth contain mesenchymal stem cells, the kind that can develop into tissues like bone, nerve or muscle.
The American company Store-A-Tooth recently started accepting Canadian teeth to be frozen and stored in its Massachusetts lab. Families can retrieve them in the future if they ever need them.
“Cellular medicine is going to be a big part of what we rely on to rebuild broken parts of the body,” said Dr. Joe Laning, the company’s chief technology officer.
“Theoretically, I think (teeth stem cells) would be used for reconstituting organ function or to build bone.”
Laning says freshly-pulled teeth are best and they must be couriered within 48 hours in the company’s special transport kit.
The cost is up to $1,700 USD for processing, plus an annual storage fee of about $120 USD.
Is it worth it?
Dr. John Akabutu runs a private cord blood bank in Edmonton. The retired pediatric hematologist says the stem cells in a baby’s umbilical cord are the most versatile; they can become any cell.
Right now, cord blood cells are being used to treat leukemia and cerebral palsy. Research projects around the world are exploring their potential.
“I think we’re just around the corner in our ability to be able to harness the power of these stem cells to do amazing things,” Akabutu said.
But if parents missed the opportunity to save cord blood, Akabutu feels the older stem cells in teeth can still be useful.
So far, 60 Canadians have sent their pearly whites to Store-A-Tooth. Edmonton father Brent Oliver is considering it.
While his 11-year-old son Milo has already lost all of his baby teeth, daughters Rose, 9, and Jane, 5, still have some. Oliver became interested in the regenerative powers of stem cells after losing an eye in a hockey accident 20 years ago.
“I wouldn’t have ever thought in my lifetime that something like this would be… available to parents,” Oliver said.
“It really kind of boggles the mind that you could get some real value and a better quality of life out of an old tooth.”