All About Stem Cell Dental Implants
Many people lose a tooth or two over the course of their lives. Losing a tooth can happen due to numerous circumstances such as a car accident, failing to maintain proper oral health, accidental falls, etc. Replacing a natural tooth can be quite complicated, which is why traditional dental implants are quite costly. However, this may all change with the introduction of stem cell dental implants. Alongside the best teeth aligners, stem cell dental implants have the potential to revolutionize the dental industry as a whole. But what are these implants, who can get them, and are there any risks to them? This article will answer all those questions and many more.
What are stem cell dental implants?
Before we can understand stem cell dental implants, we need to first understand stem cells. Stem cells are the cells in our body that have the capability to divide themselves and form other tissues and/or cells. They can be found in every tissue of our bodies and they are responsible for our body’s natural replenishment. Studying these cells is quite difficult, however, as they are usually hidden among other cells. The early research procedure involved stem cells that were derived from the bone marrow cells in research specimens (usually mice). These cells were used to create artificial, “lab”, teeth. As the research progressed, researchers found a way to combine human epithelial cells with similar cells found in 14-day-old mice. Through a certain procedure, these combined cells ultimately create an artificial tooth.
The artificial teeth that are created during this process very much resemble our natural teeth, at least where size and shape are concerned. Furthermore, artificial teeth made in this way have well-developed enamel, dental pulp, bone tissue, and even dentin. However, many dental specialists still question whether stem cell dental implants are suitable for human use. Even though the early research holds great promise, these implants are not yet available for commercial use.
Do these implants work?
It is quite difficult to answer this question, as the research is still ongoing and the clinical trials are in their early phase. However, the reports from the early trials indicate that dental stem cell implants show incredible promise. The fact that we might be able to “regrow” our teeth through stem cell dental implants may be a wild one to comprehend but is an exciting one nonetheless. Think about all the possible options that we may have if these implants reach commercial use. For one, we will be able to treat all of the common types of crooked teeth in a much more practical manner. Aside from being able to regrow a tooth, stem cells have the ability to repair, regenerate, and restore existing teeth. In fact, each layer of the tooth can be created by a different cell.
If we manage to fully understand the way that stem cells work, they could usher in a new era of modern dentistry!
Types of stem cells used in dental implants
There are several types of stem cells that can be used in dental implants: Bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells, dental stem cells, and embryonic stem cells.
We’ve already mentioned that researchers used bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells in their experiments with mice, and these cells are still used primarily for research purposes. Dental stem cells, on the other hand, can be found within the pulp of the teeth. The process of extracting these cells is still being refined, and most of these teeth are still being discarded.
However, once the research advances further, it is entirely possible that once-discarded teeth become extremely valuable. Of course, this does not mean that you will suddenly want to stop preventing tooth decay or pull out your teeth to sell them. No, what it means is that you may want to hold on to your removed teeth, as you might need them for future treatments. You may not want to hold onto all of your teeth, though. At the present, the best teeth to use for stem cell dental implants are wisdom teeth and baby teeth.
Lastly, there are embryonic stem cells. These cells are extremely effective in treating just about anything, provided we can harness their full potential. However, as you might imagine, actually using embryonic stem cells is a morally gray area. There are numerous valid ethical concerns that prevent the usage of these cells for commercial purposes.
Who can get stem cell dental implants?
At present, almost no one can. The reason is that stem cell dental implants are not yet commercially available. Some research projects may involve willing human subjects but comprehensive clinical trials have not started yet. Once they do, however, it is entirely possible to qualify for them and get your implants. To do so, however, you will need to fulfill a list of requirements, including:
- Having a missing tooth
- Not having an extensive medical history
- Not suffering from an auto-immune disease or immunodeficiency
- Not having any extensive bone or gum diseases
Unfortunately, you can’t do much about most of these requirements. What you can do, however, is to listen to the tips for preventing gum disease and eliminate at least one concern. While you can’t do anything about auto-immune diseases as they are mostly a roll of the dice, maintaining your oral health is something that you can do.
Risks and benefits
Even though stem cell dental implants might seem phenomenal at first, there are pros and cons to them. The primary risks include:
- Possibility of infection
- Possibility of donor cells rejection
- Possibility of treatment not working
While these risks may seem daunting, they are almost the same as risks found in “ordinary” dental implants. Considering how widespread dental implants are, the risks themselves might not be overly worrisome. basically, what you should know about dental implants is much the same as what you should know about stem cell dental implants. There are differences, of course, but they are more on the “technical” side of things.
But what about the benefits? What makes these implants superior to the solutions that we already have? Here’s a small list:
- A completely safe procedure
- Possibility of regaining a natural tooth
- Somewhat non-invasive procedure
Out of all these benefits, the possibility that you can regain your own teeth is incredibly enticing. Standard dental implants, regardless of how sophisticated they might be, are not natural teeth. They are simply a replacement, albeit a very good one. Stem cells, on the other hand, have the potential to completely repair (and even regrow) a tooth. By harnessing the power of stem cells, we may even be able to reverse the effects of age on dental health! The possibilities are endless!
Procedure and success rates
Before we get into the procedure, it is important to note that the procedure has not yet been conducted on humans. Even so, the basic procedure that was performed in research will most likely largely remain the same. There are three steps to stem cell dental implant procedure:
- Extraction of stem cells
- Isolation of stem cells from the remaining pulp tissue
- Stem cells implantation
The extraction step involves taking the stem cells from the patient’s wisdom teeth, baby teeth, or bone marrow-derived stem cells. There is also the possibility of using donor teeth for the procedure but that is less optimal. After the extraction is done, stem cells will then be isolated from the remaining pulp tissue in a stem cell laboratory. Currently, this is a very demanding process that does not have a 100% success rate yet. However, as technology advances, we can expect the success rate to increase and even reach 100% at some point.
The last step of the procedure involves injecting the stem cells into the region which the missing tooth previously occupied. There are several ways in which this can be accomplished, and the researchers are still trying to figure out the best way. In some tests, researchers successfully utilize a certain scaffolding-like structure to facilitate the tooth’s growth. The time it takes for a tooth to regrow is estimated at nine weeks.
Luckily, all of these steps can be performed under local anesthesia. This means that you can expect there to be no pain whatsoever. While stem cell dental implants haven’t yet been used to actually grow a human tooth inside the mouth, they have been used for regrowing the jawbone. In these cases, the success rate of the procedure is over 90%, even reaching 95% in some trials, according to NLM stem cells study. It is estimated that the success rate for teeth repair is also going to have a success rate that exceeds 90%.
After the procedure
Going by the current data, there are no significant adverse effects after the procedure is completed. There will be some soreness, of course, once the anesthesia wears off, but this will only last a short while. Most of the time, the soreness will be gone within a couple of days. More importantly, however, your day-to-day functioning is not expected to be impaired for more than a couple of hours. In some cases, a soft diet may be advised for the first few days.
Other than these minor inconveniences, stem cell treatment is perfectly safe and a lot more convenient than the dental implant procedure that we have today.
How much do stem cell dental implants cost?
Technically, stem cell dental implants are both free and priceless at the current point in time. The fact of the matter is that they are not yet available. However, chances are that these implants are going to be considerably cheaper than their alternatives. Some sources expect the price to be somewhere between $300 and $700, but it is impossible to tell. The actual price will depend on many factors, especially in the U.S., where a vial of insulin can cost more than $169. Luckily, the U.S. is not the only country that is going to conduct human trials in the near future, as UK, China, and India (among others) have also shown great interest in this dental technology.
The most important thing is to know that there is no set price for these implants. Anyone telling you otherwise is trying to scam you one way or another. Even if you get an invitation for a clinical trial in the future, you will want to carefully check the facility’s credentials before you get involved.
Are stem cell dental implants the future of dentistry?
Once the research is complete, yes. Stem cell dental implants are far superior to traditional dental implants. They are cheaper, easier to produce, and they are capable of actually regrowing your teeth! However, the day when stem cell dental implants will replace conventional implants is still far away. At the very least, we are looking at several years of research. If we are to be conservative, it is more likely that we will not see commercial stem cell dental implants for at least 7 to 10 years. However, there are numerous challenges that bar the way.
Challenges to be overcome
While stem cell dental implants sound wonderful on paper, their implementation is difficult, at best. First, the quality of the new tooth heavily depends on the type of stem cell, as well as its delivery method. The latter is particularly troublesome, as the formation of dental ligaments and new bone requires a particular connection between tooth bone from stem cells and the root tissue. The primary problem so far is that the teeth from stem cells tend to form at different rates and in different places during development.
Aside from research difficulties, there are also other difficulties to consider. The fact that the use of stem cells is heavily regulated inevitably prolongs the research time. Furthermore, stem cell therapy needs to show, without any doubt, that it is not harmful to human health. This part of the process can be extremely long on its own. If third parties start “blocking” the process in any meaningful way, commercial stem cell implants may not see the light of day for another 50 years at least, similar to water-powered cars.
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