HOUSTON – A lot of research has been done on the benefits of saving stem cells from a baby's umbilical cord, but not all parents realize the same cells can be taken from a child's tooth that falls out or from a wisdom tooth.
A couple of weeks ago, 19-year-old Sydney Addicks had her wisdom teeth removed and saved in case of an emergency.
"You can possibly lose your feet, your hands, your arms," Addicks explained about complications from diabetes.
Addicks has Type 1 diabetes, an illness that affects pancreatic function.
She depends on daily injections and is at risk for a list of health complications.
Her dentist, Dr. Donald Cohen, believes science is close to coming up with a way to reverse her illness through stem cell treatments.
"If we can take her stem cells and grow them in culture to create insulin making cells, like the pancreas does, then it would be possible in the next few years, because research is moving that fast, we could provide her with her own cells," Cohen said, "and give her cells that will actually replicate her pancreatic function."
Parents of patients like Sydney Addicks now have options to store their kids' baby or wisdom teeth in a special lab.
At a dentist office like Cohen's, when they extract a tooth they can preserve it in a solution and ship it off to storage.
Cohen uses the company Stemodontics.
There are also companies that can send a kit to your home and you are responsible for shipping the tooth back to them.
Collection kits like Store-a-Tooth point out the tooth needs to be intact to salvage stem cells, or they suggest taking it to your dentist.
Cohen said he thinks trained professionals are best at handling this process.
Although, right now, laws prohibit patients from getting stem cell injections in the United States.
"Are they going to clone people? That is a fear and I think it's a realistic fear," Cohen said. "We have to have ethical parameters. We have to make sure that we can police these research places."
So, all of this shipping, storing, saving stem cells, which costs $850-$2,500 plus an annual storage fee (around $100), is only preparing for what could be allowed in the future when science may be able to use this to grow organs that patients desperately need.
For example, Cohen said, healing cells could be used to repair a pancreas in a diabetic patient or grow heart muscle for a patient with heart disease.