Losing baby teeth
Losing your baby teeth is a right of passage many remember fondly. Via fabkids.
Other than a dimple in a cute little chin / What’s more adorable than a toothless grin? -Terri Guillemets

The ritual is well-known to many of us - when our kids lose a tooth, they get to put it under a pillow (or in a special box on the table, maybe with a note) and the ever elusive ‘tooth fairy’ leaves a small sum of money in exchange. But if you’re the resident tooth fairy in your home, what do you do with the baby teeth after the fee has been paid? Some parents choose to keep the teeth, put them in a scrapbook or save them for sentimental reasons. Now, though, scientists are recommending that parents hold on to those baby teeth for something a little different - the stem cells in their dental pulp.

Stem cells?

Stem cells
Stem cells are undifferentiated and can be grown into a number of other types of cells, for use in stem cell research and therapies. Via International Milk Genomics Consortium.

The subject of quite a bit of scientific (and not-so-scientific) debate, stem cell research isn’t actually that well understood by the average US citizen. According to Wikipedia, stem cells are “undifferentiated biological cells that can differentiate into specialized cells and can divide...to produce more stem cells”. What this means is these cells can be used by scientists and doctors to become specific types of cells - like bone marrow, used to treat leukemia patients - and many believe they may be the key to treating diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer's disease. The intensity of the stem cell research debate can be linked to political debates about abortion rights (related to embryonic stem cells, or stem cells taken from embryos) and even human cloning, but in recent years doctors have begun taking stem cells from a baby’s umbilical blood during the birthing process; the cells are stored by a service, and can be used in the future by the parents or the child should the need arise.

So what does this have to do with baby teeth? Well, as it turns out, there are stem cells present in the center of your child’s baby teeth, and when stored correctly, those stem cells can be harvested and used in the future if need be. Rather than storing umbilical blood, there are services, like the Tooth Bank, that will keep the baby teeth stored so that any viable stem cells remain viable; as the teeth are coming out anyway (and you have to figure out what to do with them), scientists are urging parents to think about what could be a life-saving option.

Pros of Storing Baby Teeth

Baby tooth lost
Storing a child's baby teeth might be the key to issues you encounter down the line. Via Adverntures in the Sunshine State.

There’s really only one main benefit of storing your children’s baby teeth, but it’s a big one. In the event that your child is diagnosed with certain types of bone cancers, such a leukemia, the stem cells in their baby teeth could be used to create bone marrow that’s much more likely to be accepted by your child’s body - the stem cells could potentially save their life. Not only does it decrease the chance of having to rely on a bone marrow donor, but knowing the stem cells are there if you need them is good preparation in the event of an emergency like a cancer diagnosis. Childhood bone cancer is much more common than many parents realize, and this could be the difference that saves your child’s life.

If bone cancer isn’t something you’re overly concerned about, storing teeth can still be useful - if nothing else, they can provide DNA identification for your child if they are ever missing. Taking this preventative measure helps a lot of parents feel much less worried as they raise their children.

Cons of Storing Baby Teeth

Tooth bank
If you're not interested in a professional tooth storage service, you can still keep your kids' baby teeth for sentimental reasons. Via Kirsten Rose.
    • Services that will store the baby teeth for you can be expensive; not only is there an initial fee for storage, there are storage fees for each year you’d like to keep the teeth in viable condition.
    • For a tooth to be viable, it needs to have had a blood supply within 48 hours of being stored. This can be difficult - if the tooth has been hanging on by a thread for a while, it’s probably no longer viable.
    • These services will store baby teeth so that any viable stem cells remain viable, but there seems to be little if any initial testing for how many stem cells are present and whether or not they’re viable to begin with.
    • If you’re going to grab the tooth and send it off right away, you’ll also probably need to come up with a new story about the Tooth Fairy.

Up To You

Storing baby teeth
Whether or not you choose to store your kids' baby teeth is, in the end, up to your best judgment. Via Healthy Diet 24.

In the end, there’s no one right or wrong answer to whether or not you should store your child’s baby teeth - the choice has to be made based on what’s right and doable for your family. But it’s definitely an option worth considering as science advances and stem cell research looks more and more promising.