After a child loses a tooth, many parents hold onto it for sentimental reasons, especially if it's the child's first tooth. Others simply throw them away, not wanting keep something that does not have practical value anymore.
However, recent studies suggest baby teeth could possibly be valuable items with the potential to have a positive impact on a child's health as they grow older.
For many children, the value of baby teeth is tied to the tooth fairy; when a child loses a tooth, the tooth fairy will come and bring them money. And according to Little Things, baby teeth have significance in other cultures, as well. For example, Norse culture sees baby teeth as good luck.
In addition to these cultural perceptions, it has recently been discovered that baby teeth may have practical medical value. Baby teeth are a source of stem cells, which can be harvested and used to regenerate tissue, according to WCIV.
"Stem cells have this fancy term," said Dr. Michael Schmidt, a professor of microbiology and immunology at the Medical University of South Carolina, reports WCIV. "They are called pluripotent which is code for they just make more. And when you add the right chemical combination to those stem cells you can expand them, you can grow as many as you need."
The unique properties of stem cells make them useful for treating different medical conditions. As of 2017, they have already been used to treat 80 different diseases, according to the Cord Blood Registry. Such diseases include certain cancers, including types of leukemia and lymphoma. Ongoing research into the field suggests that stem cells could be used in the future to treat an even greater array of medical issues.
This is where baby teeth come in. According to Global News, baby teeth contain mesenchymal stem cells, which can develop into bone, nerve, or muscle tissue. Scientists have discovered that it is possible to harvest the stem cells from baby teeth and to keep them stored in a lab.
“Cellular medicine is going to be a big part of what we rely on to rebuild broken parts of the body,” said Dr. Joe Laning, the chief technology officer at Store-A-Tooth (a lab that stores stem cells from baby teeth), according to Global News. “Theoretically, I think [the teeth stem cells] would be used for reconstituting organ function or to build bone.”
The thought is that the stem cells from baby teeth can be used in medical processes for treatments that a child may need later in life.
"It may not seem like a big deal losing a baby tooth," Landon Sears, a fourth-year dental student at the Medical University of South Carolina, told WCIV. "But if you need a regenerative tissue procedure way down the road for an organ replacement or some type of surgery it could."
There are some constraints to the use of baby teeth, however. One such restraint is time; the tooth must be preserved within 48 hours. In addition, storage of the stem cells -- which cannot be done at home -- can cost money. According to WCIV, Store-A-Tooth advertises their services at $1,749.
With such constraints such as these, it may be unclear to some whether storing baby teeth is worth it. Sears, however, seems to think it is.
"I think you look at it like an investment or as insurance on your own health or your children's health knowing one day it will be available," Sears said, according to WCIV. "I would say why not?