Stem cells and the dynamic field of medicine, dentistry, and orthodontics

Dr. Amy Jackson discusses how stem cells from wisdom teeth may be able to grow into other specialized cells and be able to treat or cure other serious medical conditions.

Dr. Amy B. Jackson discusses how stem cells from wisdom teeth can have promising medical benefits

When I was pregnant in 2004 with my first child, I was first introduced to the concept of banking cord blood. This is the process of a private company banking (or collecting) blood from a child’s umbilical cord at birth.

Like bone marrow, cord blood has scientifically shown to be impactful and effective in therapeutic transplants to treat a range of diseases, including leukemia, lymphoma, and various genetic disorders. The promising impacts don’t just come from the cord blood itself, but from the stem cells also contained in the detached umbilical cord. Those stem cells promised the potential to treat a broader range of conditions in the future.

At that time there were only 23 public cord blood banks and fewer than 65 hospitals throughout the country that were equipped to accept donations like these. Now, though, times have changed.

Presently, there are more than 450 cord blood banks worldwide. Cord blood is known to help treat nearly 80 unique conditions. It’s expanded beyond transplant medicine into areas of regenerative medicine in clinical research trials for conditions once thought untreatable such as autism, brain injuries, and certain types of cancer.

Stem cells also are potentially part of this process from a dental perspective with real, tangible benefits in the world of health and wellness. Stem cells are not only banked and preserved from umbilical cords. In fact, there are multiple ways to harvest these beneficial stem cells — even from wisdom teeth.

Harvesting dental stem cells can be as seamless as preserving stem cells collected from wisdom teeth during extractions. But how exactly does this work in practice, and what are the benefits of harvesting dental stem cells from wisdom teeth?

What exactly are stem cells?

Stem cells are often referred to as the body’s raw material — they’re cells from which all other cells with specialized functions are generated. Adult stem cells, also called somatic cells, are found within the deep tissues of the human body (liver, heart, ovaries, muscles, testes, teeth, skin, and bones).

Stem cells, in general, have a variety of promising medical benefits for future treatments of a myriad of conditions. Stem cells acquired from dental tissue are no exception. Dental stem cells are found in the soft dental pulp of teeth and are a rich source of mesenchymal cells. These cells can be isolated when extracted, then preserved to be used later.

Wisdom teeth stem cell extraction: what to know

In the past after procedures like wisdom teeth extractions, those extra molars were disposed of. It’s only in the past several years we’ve learned how beneficial dental stem cells can be and further, how seamless acquiring and preserving those stem cells could be too. This procedure is the perfect opportunity to harvest those valuable soft dental tissues to derive the stem cells.

The ongoing demand for wisdom teeth surgery leaves plenty of opportunity for acquiring stem cells without any additional issues. These procedures are the perfect possibility for stem cell extraction, cryopreservation, and potential later use.

Dental stem cells

Stem cells — dental stem cells included — are known as precursor cells. That means they’re not just potent and viable raw materials; they’re capable of something called “self-renewal.” This means that like other stem cells, dental stem cells (when properly acquired and preserved) can regenerate and grow into cells — but not just dental cells.

Dental stem cells could grow into other types of specialized cells, like muscles, ligaments, bones, nerves, skin, and more. The benefits of extracting dental stem cells from wisdom teeth are varied and numerous.

When my youngest was born in 2009, we had planned to bank his cord blood. After a life-threatening delivery, his cord blood was destroyed. This renewed focus on preserving cells from wisdom teeth gives us one more chance to benefit from his young stem cells, making it possible for your children and grandchildren to benefit as well.

The present application of stem cell therapy or treatment is promising, and the future of it is even brighter. Scientists are always progressing in stem cell therapy research and may eventually be able to treat and/or cure conditions like arthritis, auto-immune diseases, pancreatic dysfunction, brain injuries, cognitive diseases, and beyond.

Amy B. Jackson, DDS, MS, is a Board-certified orthodontist in private practice for over 15 years and runs four practices in San Antonio, Texas. She began her dental career in Houston where she attended The University of Texas Health Science Center. During her time there, she was recognized by the UT Health Science Center with the Dental Public Health Award for community service and was awarded a Summer Research Fellowship from the AADR and the Barnard G. Sarnat Award in Craniofacial Biology from the IADR. Dr. Jackson continued her specialty training for orthodontics at The University of Texas where she completed a master’s degree through the periodontal department and was awarded the AAED’s research grant for her work with midpalatal implants.

Disclosure: Dr. Jackson is founder of Retainers for Life®.

While stem cells from teeth are a future consideration for curing diseases, dental sleep medicine is a real and present concentration for many dental practices. Read our sister publication, Dental Sleep Practice for informative and interesting articles on how dentists can get involved in this growing area of dentistry.