If you thought you missed your opportunity to ‘bank’ you or your child’s umbilical cord stem cells at birth, it might not be too late after all. While you can never get your umbilical cord –or its blood- back, there is a new method of stem cell extraction that removes the mesenchymal stem cells from lost teeth. But there’s another major difference besides just from where the cells are taken. While you only get one opportunity to bank the stem cells found in umbilical cord blood, your opportunities to bank dental stem cells are as plentiful as your teeth. In fact, though dental stem cells are most often extracted from recently shed baby teeth and wisdom teeth, some labs report success at harvesting cells from patients up to 80 years of age. Dr. Stephen Hill of Allen, TX shares his impressions of this new scientific frontier.

The idea of using extracted stem cells to save lives is not a new concept. Stem Cell banking got its start back in 1983, with the first successful cord blood cell transfer occurring just five years later. Since then, cord blood banking has soared in popularity, but the high cost (startup fees can cost upwards of $3000, with an additional $200 in storage fees each year) and low chance of ever using the banked cells have made it a tough sell for some parents. So how does dental stem cell storage differ from umbilical stem cell storage- and is it worth it to do one over the other – or both?

In order to understand how one process differs from another, you have to understand the basics. Cord blood stem cells are taken from the blood found in a baby’s umbilical cord, immediately after birth. The blood is extracted by a physician and then sent away for the blood cells to be harvested and frozen. The purpose of storing cord blood cells is to use in the potential treatment of future illnesses. Cord blood cells are Hematopoietic Stem Cells, or (HSCs), which are used by the body to create every type of cell in the blood, including red and white blood cells, platelets, and even bone marrow.

Dental stem cells, on the other hand, are Mesenchymal Stem Cells (MSCs). MSCs are responsible for the creation of osteoblasts (bone cells) myocytes (muscle cells), chondrocytes (cartilage cells) and adipocytes (fat cells). These cells are extracted directly from the inside of a shed or lost tooth that is sent to a lab after it has fallen from the mouth. The cells can be taken from patients of any age- though some the procedure is more commonly done on baby teeth due to their availability.

According to Hill, there is value in storing both kinds of cells, because they both work to repair different systems of the body. Cord blood banking is the more ‘tried and true’ of the two methods, but Hill is optimistic that dental stem cell banking will eventually be just as –if not more popular than its predecessor. Says Hill, "Think of the possibilities with MSC regeneration. You could regrow tissue- this could someday be used to re-grow limbs or heal severe burns."

But while there is value in storing both types of cells, there’s still the issue of cost. As it currently stands, the chance of a baby benefitting from the use of their own cord blood someday down the road is around 0.04%. According to Hill, however, those numbers could be misleading. "While the odds of your child needing to use stem cell therapy today are very low, with advances in medical science occurring every day, you never know what those cells will accomplish in 20 or even two years from now," says Hill. Still not convinced? "Look at it this way." Says Hill "Stem cells are like insurance. They’re great to have, they provide peace of mind- but the goal is never to need to use them."