Revolutionary medical stem cell therapies continue to gain public interest. Mel Gibson’s 91-year-old dad got treatment that showed huge improvements to his health, including kidney function and eyesight.
Using a patient’s own stem cells to regenerate body parts is giving new hope to people suffering from all kinds of afflictions, from minor injuries to major illnesses.
In my case, I have a bum tooth that I would like removed. My dentist advised me several years ago to wait for the technology to improve, for more doctors to have operational experience with this procedure, and for the price to come down. I have waited and now have reason to put off the oral surgery a bit longer, for the same reasons.
What if I told you that some guy figured out a way to grow a new tooth in two months – using your own stem cells?
Bull fact! That guy is the learned Dr. Jeremy Mao, the Edward V. Zegarelli Professor of Dental Medicine and director of the Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine Laboratory at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City. He believes that new dental stem cells and related bioengineering technologies will redirect dentistry away from amalgam fillings, root canals, crowns, and dental implants.
Dr. Mao said, in May 2010, that change is happening fast: “Some of the technologies may happen 10 years down the road but others may happen within 10 years.”
At that time, the dentist had unveiled his new technique that directs the body’s stem cells into a growth factor-infused, three-dimensional scaffolding that helps regenerate a new tooth.
Dr. Mao’s technique directs the body’s own stem cells toward the scaffold (made from natural materials). The stem cells colonize the scaffold so a tooth can grow in the socket and then integrate itself with the surrounding tissues in ways that are impossible using hard metals or other materials. The study reported success in a scant nine weeks:
“Study researchers made three-dimensional anatomically shaped human molar scaffolds and rat incisor scaffolds. In each of 22 rats, they implanted an incisor scaffold orthotopically in mandibular incisor extraction pockets and a human molar scaffold ectopically in the dorsum. They then infused the scaffolds’ microchannels with two growth factors. They also implanted growth-factor–free control scaffolds.”
Nine weeks later, they discovered that “periodontal ligament-like fibrous tissue and new bone regenerated where the rat incisor scaffolds interfaced with native alveolar bone. The human molar scaffolds showed integration and tissue ingrowth.”
In 2010, scientists could grow new teeth in a petri dish in a laboratory – but Dr. Mao’s stem cell method was the first to regenerate anatomically-correct teeth, using only the body’s own resources.
With this new technique, harvesting stem cell lines wasn’t necessary nor was creating an environment outside of the body (in a laboratory petri dish using stem cells from other sources) to grow the tooth and then implant it after maturation.
There are several advantages to a new tooth regenerated from stem cells include:
- Dental implants replace teeth by inserting a cone-shaped titanium screw with a roughened or smooth surface into the jaw bone. Healing times vary widely among patients and require office visits to multiple oral medicine professionals. The entire installation procedure takes about 18 months. A stem cell dental implant would grow a natural, new tooth in a fraction of that amount of time.
The recovery time for a new tooth via stem cell injection at the site (in situ) is faster than it is for an implant. The new tooth is grown orthotopically (in the socket).
- Dentures, bridges, and partial bridges can all be costly and then need regular cleaning, maintenance, and repair or replacement. A regenerated tooth needs only the treatment all your other teeth get: regular cleanings and check-ups.
- Dentures can make eating and speaking normally difficult for many wearers. Furthermore, they can be painful if they aren’t properly fitted or if your mouth changes due to age, medical condition or injury.
- Dental implants can fail. Being artificial teeth, they can’t reshape themselves adaptively in response to changes in the surrounding jaw bone that occur with age.
- A natural tooth grown from your own body’s stem cells is far less likely to drop out than a dental implant or dentures.
We could, potentially say good-bye to implants, bridges, dentures, root canals, and crowns.
This is significant because 26 percent of adults have lost all of their permanent teeth by age 74.
Dr. Mao agreed that “A key consideration in tooth regeneration is finding a cost-effective approach that can translate into therapies for patients who cannot afford or who aren’t good candidates for dental implants. Cell-homing-based tooth regeneration may provide a tangible pathway toward clinical translation.”
So pardon me while I wait a bit longer to replace my dead, root-canaled tooth with a spiffy new and natural home-grown stem cell dental implant.