The team, led by Songtao Shi at the University of Southern California School of Dentistry in Los Angeles and Stan Gronthos at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., harvested stem cells from the root apical papilla of the extracted teeth, which is responsible for the development of a tooth's root and periodontal ligaments.
The researchers noted they had previously used dental pulp stem cells but found the papilla cells to be superior.
"The apical papilla provides better stem cells for root structure regeneration," said Shi. "With this technique, the strength of the tooth restoration is not quite as strong as the original tooth, but we believe it is sufficient to withstand normal wear and tear.
Shi said he hopes to begin clinical trials of the new technique in a few years and foresaw a future in which not only extracted wisdom teeth but baby teeth once left for the tooth fairy may become valuable therapeutic tools.
He added he hopes the new technique will work for dental patients who are not appropriate candidates for dental implant therapy because they don't have enough jawbone to support the prosthesis, or for patients who would prefer living tissue from their own teeth.
A report on the research appears in the Dec. 20 inaugural issue of PLoS ONE.