Can Wisdom Teeth Serve a Purpose Once Again?

July 20, 2012

If you’ve ever had to have a third molar pulled, you can probably relate to most people who absolutely abhor even the mention of wisdom teeth. Obtaining an exact percentage of people who have had their wisdom teeth extracted is difficult, but even when third molars do not cause discomfort, patients still opt to remove them preemptively in case they cause problems later. This practice has led many people to wonder if our wisdom teeth even serve a purpose. In the past, they may have been necessary for our ancestors to grind and digest a rough diet of raw vegetation and plant roots, but with our softer diets, they are no longer necessary for that purpose. Dr. Brad Greenfield explores research that may make wisdom teeth an important part of our oral and overall health once again as a source of adult stem cells.

What are Stem Cells?

The term “stem cells” raises mixed responses, depending on who you mention it to. Because stem cells are basically blank cells that can be directed to form any human cell type, to many people they represent the possibility of a disease free world. However, until recently, the most efficient source of stem cells was embryonic fluid, which made stem cells the source of much controversy. In order for a cell to be a stem cell, it has to possess two essential qualities; the potential to differentiate (transform) into other cell types, and the ability to divide itself into identical daughter stem cells (mitosis). For years, researchers have explored various sources of stem cells, including skin cells and bone marrow. While bone marrow cells proved promising, the process of extracting the necessary biomaterial is expensive and time consuming.

Stem Cells in the Pulp of Wisdom Teeth

In 2010, a team of scientists at Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology found a group of cells in the soft pulp of teeth called mesenchymal stromal cells. MSCs are similar to cells found in bone marrow, but are much easier to obtain. Since millions of Americans have their wisdom teeth pulled every year, dental pulp stem cells provide the perfect opportunity to remove the biological material in a sterilized setting. Patients can potentially save their frozen wisdom teeth for years until a personal stem cell source is needed to treat a disease or heal excessively damaged tissue.

To learn more about innovative dentistry, or to schedule an appointment with Dr. Greenfield, call Lake Orion Family Dentistry in Lake Orion, Michigan, at (248) 693-6213. We welcome patients from Lake Orion, Oxford, Rochester Hills, Clarkston, and the surrounding communities.

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