Dental Stem Cells

Stem cells are the body's "master" cells that regenerate the body's many cells, tissues, and organs. Most cells in your body can only make new cells of the same type – blood cells make blood cells, skin cells make more skins cells and so on.

Stem cells are unique not only because they can turn into many different types of cells – a stem cell might create blood, kidney, heart, or bone for example – but also because they can divide many more times than other cells.

There are two broad types of stem cells: embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells. While there has been much debate on the ethical issues surrounding the use of embryonic stem cells, adult stem cells are free of this controversy and only adult stem cells, to date, have been used to treat people successfully.

Dental stem cells are one type of adult stem cells and are very similar to the adult stem cells that have been used to treat people for a variety of conditions

Dental stem cells are adult stem cells (not embryonic stem cells) found in both baby teeth and wisdom teeth. Dental stem cells have been shown to be able to differentiate into bone, dental tissue, cartilage, and muscle, and there is even evidence that they may be able to differentiate into neural tissue. They are being studied for applications in dentistry and medicine.

They are very easy to collect. Unlike harvesting bone marrow stem cells which requires invasive surgery and cord blood stem cells which are only available at birth, dental stem cells can be collected from baby teeth and wisdom teeth which would otherwise be discarded.

Science of Stem Cells

The defining characteristics of stem cells are that they are capable of self-renewal meaning they can divide numerous times and maintain their undifferentiated state, and they are multipotent, meaning they have the potential to change into or differentiate into several different cell types. Scientists and doctors are optimistic about the growing role of stem cells to treat serious diseases.

There are two broad types of stem cells: embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells. Embryonic stem cells have the ability to create all cell types in our bodies. They have tremendous potential, but have not yielded any proven treatments and have been found to form tumors when implanted in animals. Embryonic stem cells are usually created by collecting and culturing cells from an embryo, often resulting in the embryo's destruction. The ethical and technical issues surrounding embryonic stem cells present large hurdles for successful medical applications in the near future.

Adult stem cells are multipotent, which can form more limited cell types than embryonic stem cells. Although adult stem cells typically can only create fewer tissue types, they are easier to control in research and clinical applications. Additionally since adult stem cells can be harvested from and used by the same patient, both immunogenic rejection and ethical controversy can be averted. As a result, adult stem cells are currently used to treat dozens of diseases, and the number of applications for adult stem cells being researched, or in clinical trials, or in clinical use continue to grow.

There are two basic subtypes of adult stem cells. Hematopoeitic stem cells form blood cells and are typically found in bone marrow or umbilical cord blood. Mesenchymal stem cells form connective tissues such as bone, tendons, muscles, fat, and nerves as well as liver and pancreatic cells. Mesenchymal stem cells are typically found in bone marrow or the dental pulp in teeth.

Sources of Stem Cells

Current stem cell therapies use cells obtained from bone marrow, umbilical cord blood and peripheral blood which can be expensive, painful, or complex to collect and use.

In 2000, scientists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) discovered that potent stem cells are found in both baby teeth and wisdom teeth, providing a new, convenient source of stem cells.

Studies show that dental stem cells can develop into tissue types complementary to those derived from umbilical cord blood, such as bone, other connective tissues, and possibly even neural tissue, among others.

As a result, researchers around the world are investigating the potential of dental stem cells to become a routine source of stem cells for regenerative medicine.

Current and Emerging Applications

Adult stem cells from bone marrow and umbilical cord blood have been used for decades to treat patients for dozens of diseases. Many more applications are being studied. With advances in the science and medicine of stem cells, experts predict a coming future of regenerative medicine enabled by stem cells, and in a broader array of applications.

Dental stem cells are a newly identified source of adult stem cells and the earliest applications expected are the repair of damaged tooth structures, bone regeneration, and possibly the treatment of neural tissue injury or degenerative diseases (Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 2003).

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