Memo to the Tooth Fairy: A quarter won't cut it anymore. Baby teeth could prove to be super valuable some day as researchers from the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., have found that the dental pulp of baby teeth is a rich source of stem cells that could possibly be used to help repair damaged teeth and perhaps even treat neural injuries or degenerative diseases, report Reuters, New Scientist, and Science Daily.
Lead study author and pediatric dentist Dr. Songtao Shi has his daughter, Julia, to thank for the discovery. Her first baby tooth fell out when she was 6 years old. In a news release announcing the findings, Shi said, "Once it was out, we sat and looked carefully at the tooth. I said, 'Wait a minute, there is some red colored tissue inside of the tooth,' so I took the tooth to my laboratory the next day and examined it. Sure enough, it had beautiful pulp tissue left over." Science Daily reports that when her next tooth fell out a few days later, he placed the tooth into a liquid medium used to culture cells, drove it to the laboratory, and extracted the dental pulp. Soon thereafter, he succeeded in isolating living stem cells from the tissue, a discovery that would lead to the collection of more exfoliated teeth from Julia and other children.
It was announced last week that stem cells injected into mice can repair damage and sharply reduce symptoms of this debilitating disease that affects 400,000 Americans.
Stem cells have been found other body tissues, including adult teeth, bone marrow, muscle, and skin, but baby teeth stem cells could be the most versatile of all when it comes to yielding cells that could give rise to new bone and nerve cells. The NIH researchers were able to coax the baby teeth stem cells to grow into nerve cells, fat cells, and cells that produce dentin (the hard material in teeth). Shi told Reuters that the next step is to determine whether these stem cells can morph into other cell types. The findings were published in the online early edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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