When your child is about to lose her milk tooth rather than of discarding it, you can now choose to use it to harvest stem cells in a dental stem cell bank for future use in case of serious ailments. Now that's a tooth fairy story coming to life.
Still relatively new in India, dental stem cell banking is fast gaining popularity as a more viable option over umbilical cord blood banking.
Stem cell therapy involves a kind of intervention strategy in which healthy, new cells are introduced into a damaged tissue to treat a disease or an injury.
"The umbilical cord is a good source for blood-related cells, or hemaotopoietic cells, which can be used for blood-related diseases, like leukaemia (blood cancer). Having said that, blood-related disorders constitute only four percent of all diseases," Shailesh Gadre, founder and managing director of the company Stemade Biotech, told IANS.
"For the rest of the 96 percent tissue-related diseases, the tooth is a good source of mesenchymal (tissue-related) stem cells. These cells have potential application in all other tissues of the body, for instance, the brain, in case of diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's; the eye (corneal reconstruction), liver (cirrhosis), pancreas (diabetes), bone (fractures, reconstruction), skin and the like," he said.
Mesenchymal cells can also be used to regenerate cardiac cells.
Dental stem cell banking also has an advantage when it comes to the process of obtaining stem cells.
"Obtaining stem cells from the tooth is a non-invasive procedure that requires no surgery, with little or no pain. A child, in the age group of 5-12, is any way going to lose his milk tooth. So when it's a little shaky, it can be collected with hardly any discomfort," Savita Menon, a pedodontist, said.
"Moreover, in a number of cases, when an adolescent needs braces, the doctor recommends that his pre-molars be removed. These can also be used as a source for stem cells. And over and above that, an adult's wisdom tooth can also be used for the same purpose," Gadre added.
Therefore, unlike umbilical cord blood banking which gives one just one chance - during birth - the window of opportunity in dental stem cell banking is much bigger.
"Of course, age is still a big factor," added Menon. "A child's milk tooth has more potency than a wisdom tooth. The ability of a young one's cells to multiply is twice as higher as anyone else."
Pankaj Kala is one of those who opted for dental stem cell banking for his child.
"I lost my mother to cardiac arrest when she was just 45. She was also a diabetic. After that I decided that I will do everything possible to protect my family from harm. I missed the opportunity of umbilical cord blood banking in the case of my daughter when she was born; so when she was six, we went for dental stem cell banking," Kala, who is in the jewellery business in Mumbai, told IANS.
"It's been two years now and I have decided to go for the procedure for the second child too. Even my wife will go for stem cell banking using her wisdom tooth. In my case, however, it will be difficult since I had gone for root canal treatment in my wisdom tooth and therefore it's not healthy," he added.
Anish Jain, another parent who has got his son's milk tooth extracted for stem cell banking, said: "I know stem cell therapy is a relatively new field, but I didn't want to have regrets later about not doing anything that could help my child if he suffers from any ailment."
As of now, dental stem cell banking in India is offered by a select few companies, like Stemade and Store Your Cells. The procedure and then preservation of the stem cells can cost around Rs.100,000 for a period of 21 years.
"Around 20 percent of those who have come to us for dental stem cell banking are doctors," said Gadre, who added they collect 60-70 samples every month.
There are however sceptics.
"Research is still on in stem cell therapy; so to tell people that harvesting your stem cells can save you from any serious disease is still a premature statement," said a doctor.