A dentist who was among the first in Northern Ireland to remove the teeth of a diabetic schoolchild for stem cells believes it could help save lives.
Paul Reaney from Co Armagh carried out the pioneering procedure three months ago when he extracted two teeth from a 12-year-old with Type 1 diabetes.
But instead of being binned –or put under a pillow for the Tooth Fairy – the tiny milk teeth could help transform lives.
The teeth were placed in nitrogen and transferred to a cell bank in London where they will be kept for up to 30 years.
The harvested stem cells from the teeth are thought to have the potential to treat degenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and other neurological conditions.
The Markethill dentist, who has been practising for 23 years, has now stored his 12-year-old son Andrew's tooth for stem cells – known as the "building blocks of life"– in case he becomes ill.
The 43-year-old, along with his wife Gillian, decided on the unusual course of action so their son can take advantage of future medical advances in stem cell research.
Mr Reaney said: "I probably wouldn't have been aware of it had the family not contacted me.
"The patient's parents had already decided they wanted this done. I just had to find out how to go about it."
The father-of-two discovered that group training was about to be offered in the region by London bank cell company Precious Cells.
It was introduced after dentist Brid Hendron's nephew had his stem cells stored after being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and believed better access to services was needed.
Now dentists are being offered training in Northern Ireland so they can provide the service in their own practices. With costs of up to £1,685, depending on the length of time the cells are stored, Ms Hendron, the clinical lead of Precious Cell in Ireland, admitted it is not something that everyone can afford.
She said: "I don't want anyone ever to think not storing stem cells is a bad choice, because not everybody can afford to do this.
"But what I do feel very strongly about is for the people who are in the position to do it they should have the ability to access that."
Mr Reaney, who was one of six dentists who received the training in May, said he felt it was rewarding to facilitate something that the family found useful.
But he added: "I wouldn't encourage just taking teeth out – the ones I have done so far are clinically necessary."
And he warned that the service offers "no promises".
He said: "It is an opportunity that is there. At the minute it won't be able to treat them.
"What the family is hoping is there will be advances with diabetes, because it is such a important medical condition worldwide there is a lot of research put in.
"It's not there yet, the potential is there. We can store the cells, the next big phase is how we use them – that is where the research is focused on now."
Mr Reaney hopes the process will become more commonplace.
"When people first spoke about test tube babies it seemed like that could never be achieved but it has helped so many people," he added.
"Who knows what medical advances will be achieved in the next 30 years? But instead of putting teeth under the pillow or into clinical waste, we can now use these for the future."
Stem cells from bone marrow and the umbilical cord have been used for many years and research is developing at a rapid pace.
The valuable pulp in milk teeth contains a multitude of stem cells with the potential to regenerate bone, cardiac tissue and cartilage.
Advocates suggest preserving the teeth could safeguard your family's future health.