After getting accepted into dental school I received instructions from my school to start collecting extracted teeth. I dropped off several jars full of diluted bleach at dental clinics even before I started dental school. At this time I had no idea why I was being asked to collect decayed and rotten teeth.
In the blink of an eye I was a 2nd year dental student taking a pre-clinical endodontics laboratory course digging through hundreds of teeth and taking x rays to find the ideal ones to practice Non Surgical Root Canal Treatment (NSRCTx).
While I was doing so, I came across several stressed out seniors searching for teeth for their state licensure exams. One night, after ordering my books online, I randomly looked up “extracted teeth.” I found several websites, based all across the globe, selling extracted human teeth. Surprisingly, none of these websites mentioned how the teeth were acquired and whether they were collected for sale ethically upon receiving patient consent. Only a few of them stated the manner in which the teeth were handled and disinfected, since technically they are classified as a biohazard.
I understand that human and animal specimens and organs are available and used for educational, research and pharmaceutical purposes. The sale and distribution of these products is tightly regulated by agencies such as the state anatomical boards and the office of medical investigator. Teeth are also a part of the human body and are and should be considered as an “organ”. They allow forensic experts and forensic odontologists to identify decomposed and burnt human corpses and facilitate criminal investigations. Sale of human teeth by these websites in such an unregulated fashion may provide great convenience for dental students preparing for preclinical labs and licensure exams. There is an immediate need for some sort of regulation restricting such sales by individuals who are trying to profit off of someone else’s body part or an “organ.” As future leaders and advocates for patient’s rights and welfare, I believe that this is an impressing issue that requires immediate attention both nationally and internationally. From the dental student perspective, we need to understand the ethical implications that surround purchasing teeth abroad. Chances are, if this isn’t legal in the United States, we should not be purchasing them. Additionally, professors would not support such sales if they knew students were purchasing test-case-teeth online. It would definitely ease my mind knowing that the teeth I practice on were extracted for ethically sound reasons, with patient consent and proper preservation. It seems worth the time and effort to distribute jars to local oral surgeons knowing that the teeth were obtained right and justly, rather than supporting a website business that is unethical.
~Supreet Arora, Baylor ’15