The discovery in 2000 of stem cells in tooth pulp opened many doors for researchers, in part because teeth are a morally non-controversial source of the cells. The cells can be extracted from either wisdom teeth or baby teeth, although viability of the cells is reduced when teeth fall out on their own.
Researchers are using stem cells to grow nerve, tissue and bone cells and have already successfully engineered a mandibular condyle (TMJ) from rat stem cells. Jeremy Mao, DDS, PhD, professor at Columbia University and author of the National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded study explains, "The TMJ is a synovial, or free-moving joint. So are the knee, hip and shoulder joint, all of which include rounded movable condyles. We certainly hope our results will be applicable to other synovial joints."
Stem cell applications from tooth pulp hold promise for cranial facial treatments, including:
Regeneration of damaged or missing teeth or as part of a root canal
Regeneration of orofacial bone and cartilage
Regeneration of salivary glands
Repairing cleft palates
"We are working toward isolating stem cells from all dental tissues and utilizing them to regenerate damaged and diseased tissue to ultimately regenerate whole teeth," says Mary MacDougall, Ph.D, professor of pediatric dentistry and associate dean for research at The University of Texas, San Antonio, and president's council chair for excellence in dental research. "We want to be able to trigger tooth growth directly in the gum...With the use of stem cells, individuals would eventually be able to grow their own replacement teeth." She predicts results from current studies within 10 to 15 years.
A recent report that surgeons in Spain transplanted a windpipe grown from a patient's own stem cells lends high hopes for stem cell treatments for many other conditions as well, including neurological diseases, joint replacements, organ replacements and blood diseases.
The NIH projects that regenerative medicine will be a $500 billion market by 2030 and dental stem cell harvesting and cell banks are already entering the marketplace. Dentists are offering harvesting procedures in partnership with cell banks such as StemSave, New York, NY, and BioEden Tooth Cell Bank, Austin, TX, so that patients may enable themselves or their children to have regenerative procedures in the future from their own healthy cells which have been cryopreserved. Costs to the patient include the dental visit, an initial processing fee of about $600 to the stem cell bank and monthly storage fees of around $100.