MANITOWOC, Wis. (WBAY) - One local dad is banking on the unpredictable future, doing what he believes could help his kids if they ever develop certain health problems.
"If I have a choice between doing nothing and doing something, I'd rather have said I did what I could," Dr. Clint Rau said.
You've probably heard of cord blood banking, where families save stem cells from a baby's umbilical cord. Now there's a new way to do it with teeth. It's called dental stem cell banking.
"I have a 14-, 16-, 17-, 19- and 22-year-old," Rau said. "My child thinks they're invincible."
When you have five kids under your roof, there's a lot of wisdom to impart. Or should we say, extract.
"I have three young men who are in my home that need to have some wisdom teeth removed."
Rau, a father and a pediatric dentist in Manitowoc, knows what his future entails.
"We'll just let them get them all out at the same time and let them commiserate."
Dr. Rau plans to preserve the stem cells found in his children's wisdom teeth when they're taken out later this year.
"And when we save stem cells for a specific person, the potential of what we can do with that down the road is very high right now," Rau said.
There are different types of stem cells. The ones found in teeth are mesenchymal, which normally form cartilage, muscle, bone and fat.
"They are how we respond to wear and tear when disease or damage occurs," said Jill Meyer-Lippert, an oncology dental hygienist in Manitowoc and a brand ambassador for stem cell banking service Tooth Bank.
"Basically, who knows? It could be 20 years down the road and somebody could grow you a new heart," said Rau.
Here's how dental stem cell banking works:
The idea is to extract stem cells from healthy teeth already scheduled to be taken out for dental purposes.
"You can't take a tooth that falls out on its own and then send it in afterward, because you need that blood supply to feed that tissue on the inside to keep it viable," Meyer-Lippert explained.
Ask your dentist's office if they work with a tooth banking service. If they don't, you can order a package online from ToothBank.com and bring it to the appointment.
Once the tooth is extracted, it's put in a jar. "Activate a cooling patch to help preserve that, seal it up, and goes into a prepaid FedEx envelope and is delivered within 24 hours to begin processing," Meyer-Lippert said.
On average, about two million cells can be reproduced from one tooth.
"They clean the tooth, section it, take out inner structures, separate stem cells, and then multiply them and separate them to store them at two different facilities," Meyer-Lippert continued.
Along with the cost of the dental procedure, the initial investment for tooth banking is $475 with a $115 annual fee.
"They can be stored indefinitely," Meyer-Lippert said.
But why put money into something you may never need?
"There's a field of medicine called regenerative medicine that is very much in its infancy," Meyer-Lippert told us. "They are in the early stages of learning what all the possibilities are."
"They're finding there's a lot of potential for diabetes, repairing heart damage, joint issues, even reversing paralysis. So it's very exciting to find out what the possibilities will be in the future," she added.
Not all dentists offer it.
"It really hasn't been around that long," Meyer-Lippert said.
She acknowledged not everyone is on board.
"I think some dental offices are hesitant to recommend it or tell people it's available because they don't know for sure what the applications may be."
But for Dr. Rau, who has found cancer five times in young children, it comes down to his patients and the future of his own kids.
"As a father," Rau said, "if I can look back and say I could have done that and it could have saved my child's life, that would have been a very sad event."