James Mah and Karl Kingsley, researchers at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, along with a few of their students, have developed a method for extracting a large amount of stem cells from wisdom teeth.
According to Mah, director of UNLV’s advanced education program in orthodontics, doctor of dental surgery, and dental researcher, stem cells are found in nearly any living tissue and can be squeezed out of tissues of the deceased.
“The biggest challenge with stem cells are gathering enough of them to work with and keeping them viable until they are needed,” he said.
Using their experimental method, the research team managed to quadruple the number of stem cells that are extracted with traditional methods.
The extraction of wisdom teeth is an outpatient procedure that is performed on five million Americans every year. Kingsley commented on how the majority of pulled teeth are healthy and contain viable tooth root pulp that can offer opportunities for reproducing cells that may have been damaged.
Tooth root pulp contained two types of important stem cells: multipotent and pluripotent. Multipotent cells transform into specific types of cells within the organism while pluripotent cells have the ability to become any cell in the organism.
While the initial thought was too crack the tooth in half to gain access to the pulp, the irregular surface of teeth would require drilling or shattering the tooth. In doing this, it can lead to a low stem cell recovery rate.
Happy Ghag, a former dental student developed an instrument that saved the day. The “Tooth Cracker 5000” scores the tooth, allowing for a clean break. This results in a perfectly halved tooth, allowing complete access to the undamaged root pulp.
After testing the prototype on 25 wisdom teeth, the research team reported a 100% success rate.
While an average pulp recover rate is about 20%, this new method allows for 80% of the extracted cells to remain viable. The number of pluripotent stem cells found in teeth significantly decreases after the age of 30. But preservation could be easy by harvesting valuable cells during a wisdom teeth removal or root canal.
“The next challenge,” Kingsley explained, “is reliably collecting the stem cells early enough and storing them successfully so they can be used when needed.”