Preserving dental pulp stem cells is a trend that’s been growing nationwide in the past 10 years. Dental stem cells are different from stem cells extracted from embryos, however, and have not been proven to have any medical benefit yet.
Though researchers and families who are paying to have cells preserved hope technology may one day catch up to embryo stem cells in their healing properties.
"We took him to the hospital. It was just a huge shock,” said Stance Schudy while describing a doctor’s visit nearly ten years ago, during which he was told his young son, Austin, had Type 1 diabetes. "I went into panic mode. What's the latest technology, what's out there?"
Schudy eventually turned to the new dental pulp stem cell therapy, hoping one day stem cells from his son’s own tooth might help repair his pancreas, healing his diabetes altogether.
"I truly in my heart of hearts believe that this is a therapy that is very viable,” said Stockton Dentist James Rore.
Rore said in order to extract living stem cells, a tooth must be sent to a special lab within 24 hours of it being pulled. There, researchers extract living cells from inside it and save them.
"It's sort of a tiny little gold mine of cells," Rore said. "They have the capability to become any sort of cell. Whether it be heart tissue or brain tissue, nerve tissue."
Rore admitted the technology to convert the dental pulp cells into healthy tissue isn’t there yet, but estimates it might be viable within the next five years. Many families, like the Schudys, are hoping those stem cells might one day be grown into new organs.
But many medical experts disagree with Rore.
A large group of medical professionals says dental cells will never be used to treat diseases like embryo stem cells are. Some researchers call the therapy snake oil because many families are paying labs hundreds of dollars every year to preserve their cells with no guarantee the science will ever pan out.
Despite those skepticisms, Schudy stands by his family’s decision.
"When it has to do with your child, you look at it and you say if there's a chance, you take that shot," Schudy said.
Today, Austin Schudy is a healthy 19-year-old, making do with diabetes.
"I have highs and lows. Everything goes smooth and then you wake up the next day and your legs feel funny,” Austin said.
He's equally hopeful that one day his own dental stem cells might cure him.
"It's worth the risk of spending ten bucks a month,” Austin said.