A Surprising New Source for Stem Cells: Your Wisdom Teeth

Third molars, also known as wisdom teeth, seem like a significant flaw in an otherwise efficient design. In the rare best case scenario, they grow in normally but serve no real function. More often, however, the wisdom teeth grow in at awkward angles or remain impacted within the gum tissue or the jaw bone, leading to serious problems like crowding, gum disease, and infections that require dental surgery to remove. However, researchers have discovered that these seemingly useless teeth might become a viable source for stem cells in the near future.

Findings from New Stem Cell Research

Stem cells are like cellular blank slates from which all other types of specialized cells (bone cells, blood cells, muscle cells, cartilage cells, etc.) are derived. Stem cells are used primarily in the growing field of regenerative medicine. Regenerative therapy uses stem cells to stimulate healing in injured, diseased, or “dysfunctional” tissues. Until recently, the only source for stems cells were 4-5 day old human embryos and, unsurprisingly, this has been the source of a great deal of controversy.

In recent years, the search for new ways to produce adult-derived stem cells has included blood, fat, bone marrow, and now wisdom teeth. Researchers at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Japan obtained mesenchymal stomal cells (MSCs), which bear a close similarity to the bone marrow cells often used to generate adult stem cells, from the pulp within extracted wisdom teeth. The scientists genetically “reprogrammed” the wisdom teeth MSCs into a stem cell-like state, where they successfully differentiated into several other types of cells.

What Does this Mean for You?

Regenerative therapy has a range of applications, from repairing knee joints damaged by injury or arthritis to organ transplantation, and autologous stem cells (those derived from the patient’s own cells) have shown high levels of success. Although research in the field of molar-derived MSCs is still in its infancy, researchers point out that many people in Western countries routinely have their wisdom teeth removed. The MSCs found in them could, theoretically, be preserved for therapeutic use later in life much like cord blood preservation.

About Shawn Hofkes, DDS

With advanced training in oral and maxillofacial surgery and certification in oral and IV sedation, Shawn Hofkes, DDS is qualified to provide advanced dental surgery services from our state-of-the-art dentist office in Cerritos, CA. To schedule your appointment or consultation with Dr. Hofkes, contact us today. We proudly serve patients of all ages from Cerritos, Lakewood, Long Beach, Buena Park, and all surrounding communities.