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The promise of stem cells for treating chronic diseases like diabetes to growing new teeth has been around for quite some time now. We take a look at the reason why wisdom teeth are used to harvest stem cells and how far we have come in this field.

Wisdom teeth are considered to be vestigial in our mouth. This means that the course of evolution has rendered these as functionless and they are basically no longer needed [1]. The evidence of this conclusion comes from the fact that our jaws have reduced in size over our evolution, quite possibly, as a function of moving from a raw, uncooked to a softer, cooked diet [2].

Wisdom teeth are the last teeth to develop and erupt into the mouth. The lack of adequate space in the mouth can result in the development of a number of different symptoms. Patients can complain of pain, swelling, difficulty in opening the mouth, difficulty in chewing, pain during swallowing the food, repeated throat infections, fever, and a swelling of the lymph nodes [3].

Infection after wisdom tooth removal is also much more common than after other tooth extractions because of the complexity involved [4].

All of the above reasons mean that wisdom tooth extraction is done extremely commonly. Companies that store stem cells realize this and are trying to harvest stem cells from these discarded wisdom teeth and their storage for potential use further down the line. The stem cells from these teeth are not of the best quality because wisdom teeth are generally extracted in the third to fourth decade of life but their ready availability makes them attractive to researchers [5].

What are stem cells?

Stem cells are an undifferentiated cell population of the body that can turn into any kind of tissue given the right environment. There are different kind of stem cells that have been identified and are being researched extensively by researchers around the world [6].

The problem is that these stem cells can be quite elusive. They have been extracted quite reliably from wisdom teeth, other teeth extracted for reasons other than pulpal decay, and even baby teeth that fall out on their own [7].

Can stem cells from wisdom teeth be used for regenerating tissues?

The answer to this question can be a little misleading. Hypothetically, healthy stem cells (preferably young ones) collected from the wisdom teeth like other sources can be used for regenerating dental tissues and maybe even in other parts of the body [8].

In reality, though, this has not been achieved in real-world scenarios. Can anyone say with conviction that the hurdles which are stopping scientists from developing regeneration therapies will never be overcome? Certainly not.

Medical science has made some great advances in the past and things which people thought impossible are being done routinely right now.

Potentially, stem cells from wisdom teeth could be used to regenerate dentine and enamel so that traditional filling materials become a thing of the past. They could also be used to regenerate bone around a periodontally compromised tooth.

Currently, tooth mobility can be one of the most difficult things to treat and is indicative of a poor prognosis but if bone regeneration can be achieved then the number of missing teeth in elderly population could go down dramatically.

Ultimately, stem cells could be used to regenerate an entirely new tooth [9]. Such a scenario would be the ultimate tooth replacement method and could change the very nature of dentistry.

Why are stem cells not being used for regeneration already?

The hurdles, though, to try and actually be able to carry out predictable stem cell regeneration are currently massive. We do not know the number of cells required to carry out regeneration, the concentrations of different biological mediators which lead to this regeneration, the sequence in which these biological mediators are required, or the complications that can occur as a result of this regeneration [10].

If we take the regeneration of a tooth as the ultimate aim of using stem cells for dental purposes, then we can also add in the need for a socket that promotes tooth formation, a scaffold to ensure the new tooth is the correct size and shape, and enough blood supply to help the tooth bud develop.

This same process has yet to be predictably achieved in the laboratory and so we are very far from achieving something tangible in this space.

Should you store stem teeth from wisdom teeth?

This is an answer that everyone must come to individually. Here is something to help you decide. The cost of storing these stem cells indefinitely in the hope that one day they may benefit you or your loved one can be significant. If you are someone that does not mind taking a gamble knowing fully well that nothing may come out of it, then, by all means, go ahead.

If you are, however, someone that could use this money for something else more tangible and immediate then we highly recommend you save for that first.   

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