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Researchers investigate saving your baby teeth for the future

"Banking" your baby teeth for future health needs?

It's not as far-fetched as you may think. A National Institutes of Health researcher says that along with jawbone and periodontal ligament, baby teeth (primary teeth) and wisdom teeth (third molars) could be stored for future health needs.

The teeth and tissues are all non-controversial sources of stem cells, said Dr. Pamela Gehron Robey, chief of the Craniofacial and Skeletal Diseases Branch of the NIH's National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.

Stem cells have the potential to save injured teeth and grow jawbone, according to Dr. Robey, and regenerating-or replacing lost tissue with new growth-an entire tooth is on the horizon.

Harvested from the pulp layer inside the teeth, jawbone and periodontal ligament, these stem cells may one day correct periodontal defects and cleft palate and may help restore nerve cells lost in diseases such as Parkinson's.

"The stem cells from jawbone and teeth share a common origin with nerve tissue," said Dr. Robey. "With the proper cues, researchers may be able to encourage them to form nerve-like tissue which may restore cells that make dopamine (a brain chemical that nerve cells need to properly function), but much more work is needed."

It may be years before research in the field reaches the point where it would be practical for people to start banking their teeth for stem cells, she added, but researchers are making new advances all the time.

"When you think about it, the teeth children put under their pillows may end up being worth much more than the tooth fairy's going rate," said Dr. Robey. "Plus, if you still have your wisdom teeth, it's nice to know you're walking around with your own source of stem cells."

Please contact the ADA if you have questions about this article.

©2010 American Dental Association. All rights reserved. Reproduction or republication is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission from the American Dental Association.

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