Scientists report for the first time that "baby" teeth, the temporary teeth that children begin losing around their sixth birthday, contain a rich supply of stem cells in their dental pulp. The researchers say this unexpected discovery could have important implications because the stem cells remain alive inside the tooth for a short time after it falls out of a childs mouth, suggesting the cells could be readily harvested for research.
According to the scientists, who published their findings online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the stem cells are unique compared to many "adult" stem cells in the body. They are long lived, grow rapidly in culture, and, with careful prompting in the laboratory, have the potential to induce the formation of specialized dentin, bone, and neuronal cells. If followup studies extend these initial findings, the scientists speculate they may have identified an important and easily accessible source of stem cells that possibly could be manipulated to repair damaged teeth, induce the regeneration of bone, and treat neural injury or disease.
"Doctors have successfully harvested stem cells from umbilical cord blood for years," said Dr. Songtao Shi, a scientist at NIHs National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) and the senior author on the paper. "Our finding is similar in some ways, in that the stem cells in the tooth are likely latent remnants of an early developmental process."
Bob Kuska | EurekAlert!
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