Almost every child asks what the Tooth Fairy does with all of those lost baby teeth that she collects. Perhaps in the future, she can use them to make new teeth – or even new nerve cells or bone.
Researchers from the University of Michigan School of Dentistry say they have used stem cells from lost baby teeth to grow dental pulp tissue in mice. Dental pulp is what's in the center of a tooth. It contains the tooth's nerves and blood vessels.
Stem cells were first discovered in lost baby teeth about five years ago at the U.S. National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR). Stem cells can divide and form many different types of cells, including fat, nerve and bone cells. Each baby tooth contains about 15 stem cells.
The Michigan researchers suggest that stem cells could be used to grow dental pulp, or to regrow teeth or parts of teeth. Also, these stem cells could be collected and banked in case they are needed. Stem cells are used in bone marrow transplants for some types of cancer and blood disorders.
The Michigan study appears in the August issue of the Journal of Endodontics. The NIDCR research appeared in May 2003 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.