By Erin Roberts
Children enthusiastically place their fallen teeth underneath their pillows to wake up to a small gift from the tooth fairy in the morning. In the future, the tooth fairy could be replaced and those teeth may be exchanged for a prize of much higher value.
Recent studies discovered that wisdom teeth, as well as all first generation teeth, contain living cells, which can be developed in order to produce stem cells.
Stem cells are useful in the medical community because they have the potential to develop into any cell type and can be used anywhere in the body.
These cells can serve as a repair system for the body by replenishing damaged cells, said Dr. Richard Lamont, professor of oral biology at the University of Florida College of Dentistry.
After the tooth is extracted, the stem cells can be found in the pulp at the base of the tooth, Lamont said.
“The removal of wisdom teeth is a procedure that is performed every day, so if scientists are able to derive stem cells from these teeth, it could potentially have a huge impact on the medical world,” said David Walker, a D.M.D at Walker and Raynal D.M.D, a general dentistry practice in Brandon.
This research is in the very early stages, and it is possible that it could be 10 to 15 years before this study could be applied to clinical use, Walker said. Eventually these stem cells could help provide treatment to those affected by common dental diseases.
Periodontal diseases affect the soft tissue and bone that support the teeth. In severe cases, periodontal disease may cause tooth loss. Stem cells could be used to generate a whole new tooth and damaged gum tissue, according to Lamont.
“Periodontal disease is one of the most common infectious diseases in developed countries,” Lamont said. “Most people over 35 have experienced some form of periodontal disease and quite a significant number have periodontal surgery.”
“As a D.M.D, I refer patients to a periodontist or an oral surgeon on a daily basis,” Walker said. “The stem cells could eventually positively affect the treatments provided by these practices.”
Dental stem cells differ from the stem cells derived from embryos because the embryo is destroyed when the stem cells are removed as opposed to dental stem cells, which already exist in the body, Lamont said.
The usage of stem cells in the medical arena could provide treatments for a variety of conditions. The stem cells produced by first generation teeth provide an alternative option to the previous studies that involved the controversial usage of embryonic stem cells.
“I would support this over the use of embryos. My greatest concern lies with research that deals with human life,” said Pastor Kerry Beaty, of Lone Oak Missionary Baptist Church in Plant City.
Those that are against embryonic stem cell research and the usage of these cells for medical purposes may see this study with dental stem cells more favorably, Beaty said.
Lamont said, the further study of cell development through stem cells may provide openings in the future for new treatments of serious diseases and medical conditions.
Stem cells offer possibilities in the medical field to provide treatments to those with serious neurological diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
Dental stem cells could also be a source to replace cells and tissues for some forms of cancer and heart disease.
More options for treatment by stem cells for medical conditions, disorders and disabilities can be conceptualized in the future as scientists further investigate the properties of dental stem cells.
“Research has been stifled by past controversy, but this study is potentially very exciting,” Lamont said.
Walker and Raynal, DMD’s, PA is located at 212 Moon Ave. N. Brandon. For information, contact 689-5928 or visit www.walkerandraynaldmd.com.