SONOMA (KPIX 5) -- No one enjoys a trip to the dentist, but for some, it just might be a key to unlocking the healing power of the human body.
Dario Manatta arrived at the offices of Sonoma Valley Oral Surgery to have his wisdom teeth pulled. One of them is actually growing sideways.
But the 24-year-old is facing an even bigger challenge: a year ago he was paralyzed in a snowboarding accident.
"Yeah, it ruined my spinal cord. It originally was severed, I guess," he said.
But, along with some anxiety, having his wisdom teeth extracted by oral surgeon Dr. Tyler Boynton is also giving him hope. That's because it has been discovered that wisdom teeth are a great source of stem cells.
"The stem cells are located in the pulp of the teeth; that is where all the stem cells reside," said Dr. Boynton. "That's where the magic is."
Stem cells seem magical because of their ability to grow new human tissue.
"They are involved in both repair and regeneration," said Dr. Ophir Klein, a stem cell researcher at UCSF Medical Center.
Dr. Klein is also a consultant to a company called Stemodontics that collects and multiplies stem cells from teeth. It then freezes them, waiting for the day when science figures out how to get them to regenerate other tissue, like spinal cords.
"There's no promise that there will be a utility for it, but our guess and our hope is that in a patient's lifetime that there will be some utility for these cells," explained Dr. Klein.
Until then, the Manatta family is considering saving Dario's wisdom teeth as an insurance policy. The young man, who does grueling physical therapy every week, wants to stay ready for the day it may finally pay out.
"I'm trying to stay in shape and be fit and keep my body in the best shape I can up until the point where technology or someone figures something else out to get these puppies going," Dario said, pointing to his legs.
Wisdom teeth are usually removed between the ages of 13 and 25. Dr. Boynton says he will consider saving his own young son's teeth just in case stem cells are ever needed in his future.
In the meantime, Dr. Klein emphasizes there are still lots of hurdles to be crossed, but he says science seems to be accelerating in this field. And as long as there's any chance at all, the Manatta family is willing to take it.
"We hope it'll work," said Dario's father Dino Mantta. "And we just keep following up and if something comes our way, we're going to jump on it. We're not giving up."
The science isn't here yet, but the potential of it is. And for the Manattas, that's enough to keep spirits high and hope alive.
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