For children, a loose tooth is a big deal. But for parents, scientists say, it might be an even bigger deal. In fact, it might just save your or your child's life.
When you're a child, a wiggly tooth means a visit from the tooth fairy and an oh-so-important gift under your pillow. But, parents, listen up: According to researchers, baby teeth hold a key component to tissue regeneration and, potentially, a cure to several diseases. That's because stem cells in baby teeth exist in abundance.
So what are stem cells? Well, stem cells are cells that can essentially become a number of different types of cells. That means a stem cell could become another stem cell or it could, say, mature into a cell that makes up the heart. Some valuable stem cell uses include generating healthy cells that can replace diseased ones, which is especially helpful for things like Alzheimer's, heart disease, and even cancer; teaching researchers more about how our body's cells work; and testing new drugs and treatments.
Stem cells that are collected from baby teeth can be stored and possibly used in the future to treat a disease a child or a family member develops in the future.
According to Michael Schmidt, a professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of South Carolina, our understanding of stem cells is advancing to the point that one day very soon we might know how to choose exactly which disease we need our stem cells to cure!
"That day is not too far in the future," Schmidt said. "We will probably see it with our lifetimes where we will be able to dial a gene and figure out how we can fix what's wrong with us."
For parents who missed out on saving their child's cord blood, preserving stem cells in baby teeth might be an attractive option. Like baby teeth, umbilical cord blood is full of stem cells and can be saved for future use.
"Baby teeth just happen to be that one extra place that we can recover them," Schmidt said. "Cord blood is great, but if you can get them from baby teeth so much the better because you don't have to bank them at the day you are born. You can actually wait until the teeth grow out."
If you missed out on capitalizing during both life stages, don't fret! Stem cells are also in wisdom teeth.
Whether or not you agree with stem cell research, this finding sure gives you a lot to think about.