This afternoon I had the joyous experience of having a tooth extracted – nothing really dramatic honestly, it only took about 15 minutes, it was just unexpected. Went in to have the tooth looked at, and the x-ray showed the tooth almost totally gone. Out she comes!
After getting back, and nursing some gauze, we started chatting about the future of dental procedures, and the potential that sometime soon teeth may not need to be repaired anymore… they can be removed and simply re-grown.
Apparently some bright lights have figured out that baby teeth have stem cells in them that can be used to grow new dental material. These scientists have taken stem cells harvested from baby teeth (the very same that every human child has that fall out between ages 6 and 13), and grown them in the lab:
“These stem cells seem to grow faster and have more potential to differentiate into other cell types than adult stem cells,” says Songtao Shi, a pediatric dentist at the US National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Shi and his colleagues found the baby teeth cells can differentiate into tooth-forming cells called ondontoblasts, and also neural cells and fat cells.
This is the sort of research into stem cells that for me is really exciting. With so much press being given to the whole ’embryonic stem cell’ fiasco and Dubya’s flawed policy on them, it’s easy to overlook the good work going on with non-embryonic stem cell research.
It’s important to note that these stem cells are not the same as what Bush has barred all federal funding for. Embryonic stem cells have the potential to grow into just about any cell in the body. The issue at hand is that an embryo must be destroyed to harvest these cells. In the situation regarding baby teeth or wisdom teeth, the stem cells are already available, and don’t require destroying a human embryo, thus avoiding any moral entanglements.
The stem cells harvested from baby teeth or wisdom teeth can be used to grow ligaments and other soft tissues. An article from the Genome News Network stresses that this sort of procedure really isn’t targeted at standard dental issues (like mine) – Stem Cell research should target larger, more difficult issues that cannot be treated with with current technology:
In discussions of the potential applications of stem cell research, periodontal repair rarely makes a list that includes Parkinson disease, Alzheimers disease, and cancer. The idea of repairing bad teeth is not compelling in the way that curing a degenerative neurological disease is.