People may in future be able to have missing or diseased teeth replaced with ones grown from cells taken from their own mouth, scientists have predicted.
Hybrid teeth created by combining human gum cells and stem cells from mouse teeth have been grown in laboratory mice by researchers who hope the work could lead to dentures being superseded by new teeth grown on a patient's jaw.
The mixture of mouse and human cells was transplanted into adult mouse kidneys and grew into recognisable tooth structures coated in enamel with viable developing roots, according to a study published in the Journal Of Dental Research.
Two kinds of cell were used to make the bioengineered teeth. Epithelial "surface lining" cells were taken from human gum tissue and mesenchymal stem cells from the mouse embryos. Mesenchymal cells can develop into a range of different tissues, including bone, cartilage and fat.
Professor Paul Sharpe, who led the research at King's College London's dental institute, said: "Epithelial cells derived from adult human gum tissue are capable of responding to tooth-inducing signals from embryonic tooth mesenchyme in an appropriate way to contribute to tooth crown and root formation and give rise to relevant differentiated cell types, following in-vitro culture.
"These easily accessible epithelial cells are thus a realistic source for consideration in human biotooth formation. The next major challenge is to identify a way to culture adult human mesenchymal cells to be tooth-inducing, as at the moment we can only make embryonic mesenchymal cells do this."
Previous research has shown that embryonic teeth are capable of developing normally in the adult mouth.
"What is required is the identification of adult sources of human epithelial and mesenchymal cells that can be obtained in sufficient numbers to make biotooth formation a viable alternative to dental implants," said Sharpe.
What are dental stem cells?
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 regenerative dentistry and medicine.
What makes dental stem cells so unique?
Stem cells are the "master" cells of the body. Dental stem cells differ from other stem cells in many ways:
- They are plentiful and 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.
- Dental stem cells are adult stem cells and are not the subject of the same ethical concerns as embryonic stem cells.
This animation shows a typical lifecycle of teeth from birth as they appear and fall out.
The best teeth for saving stem cells are the ones that come out naturally.
6-10 years - Baby teeth falling out
10-13 years - Teeth extracted for orthodontia
21-30 years - Wisdom teeth being extracted
These ages are a rough guideline since every individual loses their teeth at different times and for different reasons.
What is the difference between dental stem cells and cord blood stem cells?
Dental stem cells are complementary to stem cells from cord blood. If you banked your child’s cord blood cells, there are still potential benefits if you bank his or her dental stem cells as well. And if you missed the chance to store cord blood, you may want to consider the range of potential applications that may be possible with stem cells from your child’s teeth – either baby teeth or wisdom teeth.
Dental pulp contains mostly mesenchymal stem cells while cord blood consists predominantly of hematopoietic stem cells; bone marrow contains both types of stem cells.
While cord blood stem cells have proven valuable in the regeneration of blood cell types, dental stem cells are able to regenerate solid tissue types that cord blood cannot - such as potentially repairing connective tissues, dental tissues, neuronal tissue and bone.
Why do families choose to store their dental stem cells?
There are many reasons. Some treat the service as a sort of biological insurance. Others have chosen to store stem cells because their family has specific history or risk factors that prompt them to consider all potential options available. Some see the momentum building in the field of stem cell research and do not want to miss the opportunity to preserve their stem cells now. Because there are limited opportunities to safely, inexpensively, and painlessly collect and store stem cells – most of our clients want to be prepared “just in case” their children ever need them.
How fresh do the teeth need to be for Store-A-Tooth?
Teeth should be placed in our transport kit and chilled immediately after extraction; if a tooth is allowed to dry out, the tissue will no longer be viable for banking.
Can I do this at home?
You can collect baby teeth for dental stem cell banking at home, with the following restrictions:
- There must be a blood supply to the tooth when it is removed – that is, the tooth should bleed slightly when removed.
- The tooth must be banked using our Cultured Cell Service, so lab tests can be performed to confirm the presence of stem cells prior to cryopreservation.
However, Store-A-Tooth strongly recommends that a dentist or oral surgeon collect the tooth or teeth and place immediately into our tooth transport kit – whether it's a loose baby tooth that is naturally exfoliating, wisdom teeth, or other healthy permanent teeth that are scheduled to be extracted. By working closely with dentists, Store-A-Tooth ensures that teeth are collected under optimal conditions for recovery of the stem cells.
Which teeth are best?
All healthy teeth contain dental pulp that is a potential source of stem cells. It was originally thought that the best teeth were either the four front lower baby teeth, or wisdom teeth that are surgically removed, but we know now that all healthy teeth are good candidates for banking, including those that have been removed for orthodontic reasons.
When should I schedule my visit to the dentist?
Contact Store-A-Tooth™ as soon as you notice a baby tooth is loose, or as soon as you begin planning an extraction so that we can ship our tooth collection and transport kit to you before the tooth or teeth come out.