Finding humor in dental stem cell collection and storage

As I listened to a presentation by Provia Labs about the potential to use dental stem cells from extracted teeth to treat various medical conditions, I got a bit teary eyed.

by KAREN DAVIS, RDH, BSDH
by KAREN DAVIS, RDH, BSDH

Yes, the search included looking for frozen peas or sausage

As I listened to a presentation by Provia Labs about the potential to use dental stem cells from extracted teeth to treat various medical conditions, I got a bit teary eyed. My daughter, Madeline, has Crohn's disease, and she was scheduled to have her wisdom teeth extracted. My heart raced as I watched a video about advances in the field of stem cell research for many conditions, including Crohn's disease. The idea of preserving Madeline's dental stem cells from extracted wisdom teeth through the Store-A-Tooth company resonated with me. I didn't know a lot about dental stem cell research at that point, but I knew I didn't want to miss an opportunity should future research provide a pathway to a cure. I contacted the company to learn more about dental stem cell preservation and banking, and made arrangements for Madeline's extracted wisdom teeth not to end up in the trash.

The Store-A-Tooth website by Provia Labs is a great resource to learn more about dental stem cells and ongoing research, and it answered my questions about getting the extracted teeth to the lab. The process almost seemed too easy. However, I managed to complicate things, which at this point I can only laugh about. My first wrong step was in not listening to my daughter, who repeatedly tried to convince me that she really wanted to be put to sleep for her extractions. Upon reviewing her X-rays and consulting with the dentist, I was convinced these would be simple extractions that could be handled with a mild tranquilizer and nitrous oxide. We orchestrated the extraction date immediately following completion of her college semester, and before she was to leave town 10 days later for a wedding.

All arrangements with Provia Labs had been made, and they explained that a box would be shipped to me with the Store-A-Tooth container necessary to ship the extracted teeth to the company. They provided cool packs that I needed to freeze the night before her extractions so that the wisdom teeth could be placed in a secure container for transport. This was to help preserve the integrity of the dental stem cells inside the pulp of the wisdom teeth. I was arriving back in town the night before her appointment, and I felt confident that once I was home I would be able to unpack the box and freeze the cold packs so that I could carry them to the office for the extraction procedure. However, I forgot.

It didn't occur to me that I had completely forgotten my role until 10 minutes before we were to leave for the dental office. Madeline was already groggy from the tranquilizer she had taken, and I transformed into a panicked dental hygienist mom. I searched my freezer for frozen peas, frozen sausage, anything that could keep the dental stem cells cool enough to ship them to Store-A-Tooth.

In route to the dental office I received a calm phone call from Store-A-Tooth wanting to know if I had any questions before the procedure. I was relieved to hear her voice and confessed my mistake about the cold packs. She reassured me that I would have plenty of time to freeze the packs at the dental office since the courier pick-up was a few hours after the extractions.

My daughter proceeded to the treatment room to undergo nitrous oxide while I slipped the cold packs into the freezer. It wasn't too long before the dentist emerged with what I thought must have been the fastest extractions in history, but he informed me that strangely enough, the tranquilizer coupled with my daughter's high anxiety and lack of sleep the night before created a situation in which she had become combative when they tried to give her an injection. Oh my. He recommended we reschedule the extractions with an oral surgeon and IV sedation. I should have listened to my daughter!

I removed the cold packs from the freezer while Madeline inhaled oxygen, and I analyzed my calendar in an attempt to find another time to squeeze in her extractions before she attended the wedding. I remembered what she told me: "Mom, I don't want to look like a chipmunk at the wedding." Almost miraculously, I found an opening that day with an oral surgeon we trusted, so I filled out the registration forms online and gathered up my daughter to drive her to the next office. Before walking out the door, I remembered the cold packs that I had removed from the freezer after the failed extraction attempt. I grabbed the unfrozen cold packs and my daughter, and I called Store-A-Tooth on the way to the next office to ask them to change the courier pick-up to the oral surgeon's office. Unfazed, they got the new address for pick-up, reassured me that I could freeze the cold packs at the new office during the extractions, and that by the time the courier came, they would be cold enough to safely transport the wisdom teeth, preserving the precious stem cells.

While waiting for my daughter during her extractions, it occurred to me that in my haste and panic that morning, I had inadvertently discarded the customized shipping box from Store-A-Tooth to return the container holding the wisdom teeth, cold packs, and Styrofoam container. I checked my watch. The timely recycling service had surely come and retrieved all trash, including the customized items I had thoughtlessly discarded. I knew Madeline would be finishing her procedure within minutes, and I didn't have time to go shopping for a shipping box, so I did what most stressed out dental hygienist moms would do — I called her dad.

I instructed him to get to the nearest FedEx office immediately to buy a shipping box and bring it to us ASAP. While I was listening to the assistant give careful postop instructions, her dad called to inform me that the first place he went to didn't have the right size boxes, but with my encouragement he broke speed limits to the next FedEx office, and just as groggy Madeline was being wheeled out to my car, her dad pulled up with five box choices.

The next day, I received a call from Store-A-Tooth that the teeth had arrived sufficiently cooled, and that the team would begin the process of extracting the dental stem cells from the pulp and cryogenically freezing them in safe storage until they may be needed. I was relieved that all of my mistakes did not spoil the opportunity to bank Madeline's stem cells, and that the company was well prepared to handle consumer errors.

I was fortunate to learn about the service. But patients need to learn about it from their dental professionals. Presently the majority of extracted wisdom teeth and primary teeth are discarded. Take a few moments to visit the website at www.storeatooth.com, and be sure to visit the page that lists current dental stem cell research. As dental professionals, we have a huge opportunity and even obligation to be the liaison between emerging dental research and clinical application for our patients.

Who knows what the future holds for dental stem cells, but based upon the speed at which research is taking place, the future looks promising. RDH

Karen Davis, RDH, BSDH, is the founder of Cutting Edge Concepts®, an international continuing education company. She practices dental hygiene in Dallas, and is an independent consultant to the Philips Corporation. She can be reached at Karen@Karendavis.net.


Here are a few facts related to dental stem cells

  • Stem cells come from two sources — embryonic cells from embryos, and adult stem cells from bone marrow, umbilical cord blood, dental pulp, and adipose tissue.
  • Even though there are niches of dental stem cells present in periodontal ligaments and in apical papilla, those easiest to retrieve and bank are found in exfoliating primary teeth, teeth extracted for orthodontic reasons, and extracted wisdom teeth. Patient education about the ability to bank stem cells is essential prior to extraction.
  • The distinctive difference between stem cells compared to other cells of the body is the capacity to develop into many different cell types, and under certain conditions can be induced to become a tissue-specific or an organ-specific cell.
  • Regenerative medicine is the term used to describe the emerging field of using stem cells to repair, replace, or enhance biological function lost to injury, disease, congenital abnormalities, or aging.
  • Adult stem cells from bone marrow have been used clinically for over 50 years and provide a valuable pathway for researching, understanding, and using dental stem cells for various functions.
  • Cryopreservation is the process of using very low temperatures, typically around -300 degrees, to store cells for future use.
  • In human clinical studies, dental stem cells have demonstrated the ability to regenerate alveolar bone. In animal studies, dental stem cells have shown the potential to repair damaged corneas, treat liver disease, repair myocardial infarction, treat muscular dystrophy and spinal cord injury, regenerate damaged pulp, reconstruct craniofacial defects, engineer new teeth, and treat diabetes.
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