Scientists in Japan have been successfully harvesting stem cells from wisdom teeth. This is of great clinical importance, as wisdom tooth extractions are a relatively common type of oral surgery. Patients who have their wisdom teeth removed are currently able to opt to have stem cells from those teeth isolated and saved, in case they should ever need the cells.
It will be welcomed by many who argue against the ethics of using embryonic stem cells. The breakthrough is significant because it avoids the ethical problem of using embryonic stem cells – wisdom teeth are usually thrown away – and it is easy to stock wisdom teeth.
Having such a plentiful source of donors means scientists could produce stem cells with a range of genetic codes, increasing the chance that a patient’s immune system will not reject the transplanted tissue or organ.
Scientists at Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology said they used wisdom teeth that had been frozen for three years after being removed from a 10-year-old girl.
In addition to this, Dentistry.co.uk recently reported on the use of baby teeth as a source of stem cells by a UK company.
Wisdom teeth can be transplanted to replace lost molars. Rejection applies to teeth just like it does to other body tissue and donor trials so far have been unsuccessful.
A wisdom tooth, in humans, is any of the usually 4 third molars. Wisdom teeth usually appear between the ages of 17 and 25. About 35% of the population do not develop wisdom teeth at all.
In the radiograph above the lower left wisdom tooth is horizontally impacted. The lower right wisdom tooth is vertically impacted.
Wisdom teeth are extracted for two general reasons: either the wisdom teeth have already become impacted, or the wisdom teeth could potentially become problematic if not extracted. Potential problems caused by the presence of properly grown-in wisdom teeth include infections caused by food particles easily trapped in the jaw area behind the wisdom teeth where regular brushing and flossing is difficult and ineffective. Such infections may be frequent, and cause considerable pain and medical danger. Other reasons wisdom teeth are removed include misalignment which rubs up against the tongue or cheek causing pain, potential crowding or malocclusion of the remaining teeth (a result of there being not enough room on the jaw or in the mouth), as well as orthodontics.
Interesting fact. Agenesis (The failure of an organ to develop during embryonic growth and development) of wisdom teeth in human populations ranges from practically zero in Tasmanian Aborigines to nearly 100% in indigenous Mexicans. (Lucky Mexicans!) The difference is related to the PAX9 gene.