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Dental stem cell potential explored

Scanning through the headlines, tuning in to morning television shows, stem cells are repeatedly the topic of discussion — a discussion that increasingly includes primary teeth.

The discovery of stem cells in dental pulp has led to much research and predictions about their potential uses. Although the full possibilities of tooth-derived stem cells are not yet known, some researchers believe that they could one day be valuable for regenerating dental tissues and possibly other tissues as well.

Pamela Robey, Ph.D., chief, Craniofacial and Skeletal Diseases Branch, National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, says that because no one knows for certain what the full possibilities are for the cells isolated from dental pulp, nor can they accurately predict if or when they'll be used in clinical settings, patients and professionals need to make informed decisions.

"What we do know," she said, "is the cells from dental pulp in baby or wisdom teeth have the ability to make dentin and pulp and they might have the ability to make bone but right now that's all we really know for sure."

Because "the data for other things is not hard yet, we can't say how useful for the future they'll be," she said.

Dr. Jeremy Mao, a professor of dental medicine and director of the Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine Laboratory at Columbia University, believes that dental stem cells and related bioengineering technologies will transform dentistry in a magnitude that is far greater than amalgam and dental implants.

"Some of the technologies may happen 10 years down the road but others may happen within 10 years," he predicted.

Presently, there are no human trials taking place with the dental postnatal cells and there are no clinical applications available. There also is no central place for dentists or patients to read about the latest in dental stem cell research. Dr. Robey advised anyone hearing claims of new evidence and dental stem cells to consult the Web site

For more information about stem cells, visit the National Institutes of Health's Stem Cell Information page at

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