We hear a lot about stem cell research in the news today, but the subject is still hazy for most people. Stem cells are not yet programmed for muscle, bone, cartilage, or other specialized uses. By watching stem cells develop, researchers learn how these tissues grow. That knowledge builds an understanding of how to guide the body into producing healthy cells to replace diseased ones. Your wisdom teeth could play an important role.
About 65 percent of the global population develops wisdom teeth, the four “third molars” furthest back in the mouth. It is believed that the other 35 percent don’t get wisdom teeth as an outcome of natural evolution – our diets simply don’t require them anymore. The no wisdom tooth phenomenon is somewhat cultural, occurring more frequently in East Asia, for example.
When wisdom teeth don’t grow in properly; when they don’t emerge through the gum, only push through partially, or come in at a wrong angle, we refer to the condition as impacted. The problem of impacted wisdom teeth dates back to ancient times. The oldest documented example was dubbed Magdalenian Girl, a French woman who lived 15,000 years ago (during the Magdalenian period). Her skeleton was unearthed in 1911. Recent analysis indicates she was not an immature girl whose teeth hadn’t yet erupted, but rather an adult woman whose wisdom teeth were painfully impacted.
Today, many people have wisdom teeth extracted, either because of impaction or to ensure room for proper alignment of the other teeth. Japanese studies conducted in 2008 show that those extracted wisdom teeth are capable of producing important pluripotent stem cells, which can be used to combat a variety of health problems.
What does this mean to you? If you are planning to have wisdom teeth extracted, you may want to consider having the teeth preserved, so that the stem cells may be harvested.
For about the cost of your daily Starbucks, organizations such as Store-A-Tooth will harvest, cryogenically freeze, and bank your own unique stem cells. If the day ever comes when you are diagnosed with diabetes; arthritis; heart, Parkinson’s, Lou Gehrig’s, Alzheimer’s, or lung disease; or sickle cell anemia; or you incur a spinal cord injury or organ failure, those stem cells could be life-saving.