Hardly anyone thinks about their wisdom teeth when they come through, but for many between their high school and college years, their dentist will recommend that they be taken out.
What is involved in this procedure is usually dependent on whether the teeth are impacted—trapped below the gum line-;but surgery can mean general anesthetic, stitches, a few days to a week of rest, and lots of ice cream. No matter how you look at it, Wisdom Teeth Removal is definitely not fun.
According to a growing body of research, many dentists are starting to question the need for these surgeries. In fact, according to many experts, wisdom tooth removal might even be putting many people at risk of expensive surgery for no reason.
Just to be clear, some wisdom tooth removals are necessary. These include wisdom teeth that are infected, causing cysts and tooth decay, damaging neighboring teeth, and causing pain if allowed to remain in a person’s jaw. In these cases, it is obvious that removal is not only an advised course of action but is highly advisable to be removed. In other cases, where none of these conditions are present and the patient’s mouth is otherwise healthy, they should be allowed to remain.
In many countries, including the United States, the removal of wisdom teeth remains the standard procedure. For most dentists, to delay removing the wisdom teeth is only putting off the inevitable, since in some cases wisdom teeth can cause infections and other complications. The latest research suggests that this might be overkill.
What does research show? According to a 2014 review of seven papers looking at what happens when young adults left their wisdom teeth in some did have complications later on in their lives, but this was only part of the story. The review also showed that undergoing removal as a patient got older also increased their risks of problems increased.
While several studies have linked retaining wisdom teeth and ongoing problems, according to a recent story in the New York Times, not a single randomized clinical trial-;the gold standard of scientific evidence-;has been performed on patients who have not undergone wisdom tooth removal. In fact, a growing number of studies are showing that the opposite is true: removal of wisdom teeth is unnecessary.
Even more troubling is an oft-cited study done in 2008 by the American Public Health Association (APHA) showing that most arguments made for the removal of wisdom teeth such as damaging adjacent teeth or wisdom teeth harboring bacteria are unfounded.
All of the available evidence caused the APHA to approve a new policy stating that the problems normally associated with wisdom teeth don’t justify the risk of surgery to remove them. Further, the policy noted that surgery and related procedures such as anesthetic can lead to loss of a sense of taste, nerve damage, and even death.
So why do dentists continue to recommend the removal of wisdom teeth? In many cases, according to experts, it comes down to uncertainty. Few are comfortable with taking a wait-and-see approach.
And what should a patient do when wisdom tooth removal is recommended to them? Exploring other options can’t hurt. Regardless of what is finally done, continuing to see a dentist is a good idea for no other reason than to catch an issue before it becomes a problem. A patient’s future dental health isn’t worth risking.