In the middle of the summer, every incoming first-year dental student (D1) receives an e-mail regarding tooth collections. You heard that right — we need to start collecting teeth. When I tell my friends this, some are surprised. Others are alarmed.
“What do you mean? How? Is this legal?”
In response, we need to collect teeth because we will practice on them. From what I know, dental students will use them in dental anatomy courses and mount them on typodonts to hone our hand skills. As dental students, we are not physically extracting the teeth. That would be illegal. Instead, we prepare collection jars with a sterilizing and preservative solution, and we distribute these jars to local dentists and oral surgeons. They extract the teeth and pop them into the jar. After a few weeks or months, we collect these jars and–voilà–tooth collection completed!
Since I was working up in Northern California this summer, I distributed jars to a few nearby practices. They (or at least their receptionists) were kind and open to letting me leave a jar at their office. It wasn’t until after I distributed my jars that a sudden realization hit me. What if TSA confiscates the teeth when I’m trying to fly home?
While going through security a month later, I was relieved to discover that my teeth would not be confiscated. Under California law, extracted teeth for educational purposes do not fall under the strict rules and regulations that pertain to other human tissues. The jar was safe! When I returned home, I refilled the jar with its appropriate solution, and the teeth are now happily sitting on a countertop. (I removed my phone number and replaced the bleach with a buffered formalin solution.)