John C. Chao, D.D.S.

Research Associate Professor, University at Buffalo, SUNY
Adjunct Assistant Professor, Ostrow School of Dentistry, USC

(626) 308-9104

News & Press

Dental Research Surges Ahead
Saliva For Oral Cancer Detection Stem Cells From
Baby Teeth To Replace Tissue Lost To Cancer

In the near future saliva will be used to detect oral cancer and stem cells from baby teeth can be used to regenerate oral and facial tissue lost to cancer surgery, according to reports given at a recent news conference sponsored by the American Dental Association.

Oral cancer will claim the lives of half of all patients within five years. Early detection is the only hope of lowering this statistic. Saliva is the easiest, most convenient bodily fluid to use for testing, in a painless manner. Nanotechnology (science of molecular and atomic particles, dealing with measurements in the billionth of a meter) has introduced micro-sensors that have allowed dental researchers to use saliva as a medium to test for minute traces of abnormal cells, according to Dr. David T.W. Wong, associate dean for research at UCLA Dental School. Dr. Wong said that saliva-based oral cancer detection is about six months away from being transferred from the scientific laboratory to industrial development.

Through early cancer detection, saliva testing for oral cancer can be done on a routine basis to reduce the health care burden on society. Furthermore introduction of the topic of testing during the dental visit will increase patients' awareness of the risk of oral cancer associated with tobacco usage. Dentists and their staff are in a unique position to help motivate the patient to enroll and effectively participate in a tobacco cessation program.

In the unfortunate circumstance where surgery is needed to treat oral cancer, or where trauma has caused the loss of jaw bone, currently the patient's tissues are replaced by plastic or metallic prosthetic devices. In the near future stem cells from the patient's baby teeth, wisdom teeth, jaw bone or bone marrow can be used to regenerate lost tissue.

Instead stem cells from umbilical cords, recent breakthroughs in dental research indicate that there is strong potential for the use of stem cells from these sources to regenerate teeth, facial and jaw tissue in their natural form and function, according to Dr. Paul H. Kresbsbach, a speaker at the ADA conference. He is a professor at the Department of Biologic and Materials Sciences at the University of Michigan Dental School.

Dr Kresbsbach states that "there is no doubt that we can regenerate human tissues." Dr. Kresbsbach states that through tissue engineering therapy, stem cells from dental sources have regenerated oral tissues that are natural and fully functional in the animal model. Although real-world scenarios for humans are more complex, a few small clinical trials are already underway in humans.

Research of this kind has yielded such promising results that the National Institute of Dental and Crionfacial Research (NICDR) has announced that the federal government will offer major grants in 2006 to fund stem cell research that utilizes stem cells, not from human embryos, but from deciduous (baby) teeth, extracted wisdom teeth and jawbone. It is expected that in the not so distant future parents may be able to bank their children's baby teeth in genetic storage facilities for possible future use.

Some of the uses include repairing injured teeth, grow jawbone and even regenerate an entire tooth. It is reported that it is now feasible to develop a blueprint for creating a new viable tooth.

Even if genetic engineering were available today to replace teeth, you will still need to take regular care of your teeth and, just as importantly, keep your regular dental visits so that your oral health can be kept at its optimum condition, free of abnormalities.

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