One of the many choices parents have to make before their baby arrives is whether or not to bank their baby's cord blood. Now there might be a more affordable and less time-sensitive option: banking your baby's teeth.
Most parents know stem cells found in cord blood can be used to treat more than 80 types of diseases, including cancers, genetic diseases and blood disorders. In theory, these stem cells have the ability to regenerate into more stem cells or into specialized cells like nerve or blood cells, which carry out a specific task. While this seems like a medical holy grail (it is and it's not, and we'll get to that!), many parents choose to forgo the procedure because of its processing and storage costs.
Now they might have another option.
In recent years companies offering dental stem cell banking
have popped up. As it turns out, your child's baby teeth also contain stem
cells, which can be banked and retrieved for later stem cell extraction. But is
the procedure worth it?
Let's take a closer look at what's known so far:
The Effectiveness of Dental Stem Cells Remains Unproven
One big challenge is that there is no definitive proof that dental stem cells can be universally applied throughout the body. According to Dr. Pamela Robey of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, the only thing that dental stem cells are proven to recreate is dentin and pulp. Other research has also shown that they can be effective in brain and retinal applications. The research looks promising, but researchers (being researchers) are still hesitant to claim universal effectiveness.
That Being Said, the Usefulness of Cord Blood Stem Cells Is Also Not Guaranteed
There are public stem cell banks where people can donate
their cord blood, and those in need can obtain them if a match is found. These
banks are financed by people obtaining the stem cells for their use, and each
"withdrawal" can cost an average of $20,000 per sample. If the stem
cells are being used as part of an accepted medical procedure, this cost is
often covered by insurance.
But Even With a
Perfect Match, There Is a Chance of Rejection
When Alison Bassetto's husband was
diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in 2011, he was fortunate enough to find
an exact stem cell match among his six siblings (the chance of two siblings
being a perfect match is one in four), but unfortunately, he developed
graft-versus-host disease, and passed away when his brother's donated stem
cells attacked his own cells.
Dental Stem Cells Can
Be Harvested Later in Life
So it probably seems as though banking your baby's cord
blood stem cells are still the best way to go. Despite the small chance of
unsuitability, they provided the safest treatment option and are a guaranteed
match. But that doesn't eliminate the cost issue. Fortunately, for those
parents who cannot afford the procedure, dental stem cells can also be
harvested from wisdom teeth, making them available later in life, which is what
Bassetto did for her son after her husband passed away.
Cost Comparison: Cord Blood vs. Dental Stem Cell Storage
Cord blood storage pricing varies by provider. AlphaCord, a newborn stem cell banking company founded in 2002, currently charges more than $1,600 for initial processing and $99 per month for storage. Alternatively, parents can pay $3,495 for the first 18 years of storage, but given the late-breaking research that stem cells can be used to treat Alzheimer's and other neuro-degenerative diseases this pricing structure may have to change to accommodate lifetime storage.
Dental stem cell storage varies as well, but initial processing runs between $475 and $1,749, and annual storage costs are around $120 per year.
The verdict on this can be a bit complicated, tooth be told.
If your child is biracial or belongs to a minority group
and you didn’t bank their cord blood, then banking their baby teeth makes
sense. People of color tend to be underrepresented in public banks both due
to lower participation rates and lower overall population. Mixed-race
patients also have a harder time finding a match.
For the rest of the population, banking teeth (or cord
blood) may not be as pressing as the companies selling the service make it
seem: Research released by the American Society for Blood and Marrow
Transplantation found that only .04 percent of all banked cord blood is used by the
actual person, and recommends public storage (donation) over private storage.
For patients, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found
that 66 to 97 percent of people would be able to find a suitable donor depending on their
ethnic background among donated umbilical cord-blood units or among bone marrow
But if the topic keeps you up at night, then banking dental stem
cells can be a great option. It’s not as time sensitive (you can bank healthy wisdom teeth
as well), and according to some experts the application potential is promising and may even treat more complex disorders in the future like multiple sclerosis (MS) and traumatic brain injury.