My youngest son put his tooth under his pillow this weekend, giggling with anticipation of what the tooth fairy would bring. Across the country, Songtao Shi, a pediatric dentist at the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, has been putting the teeth of his daughter of about the same age into a glass of milk in the fridge. Why?
Shi and his colleagues have discovered that recently lost baby teeth contain powerful stem cells. They could prove to be an excellent alternative to fetal stem cell harvesting, understandably controversial despite its enormous therapeutic potential.
Baby tooth stem cells may one day be used to repair damaged teeth – or perhaps even spinal cord injuries, diabetes, or degenerative diseases.
I asked Dr. Shi about this. He said that baby teeth stored overnight in milk at 4 degrees C (about 40 degrees F) are still loaded with living stem cells in the morning.
One day soon, people may well drop off their baby teeth at the dentist’s the next day. The stem cells could be frozen and stored for years and years, available for transplant or treatment if needed.
My guess is that this will become practical while my son is still losing his baby teeth. I hope so.