Is there wisdom in removing wisdom teeth?

I remember getting my wisdom teeth extracted eons ago. It was the first time I had ever been under general anesthesia. I wasn’t having any problems with my wisdom teeth, but getting them extracted was just what everyone did. Well, even today it is the norm to pull asymptomatic wisdom teeth (impacted or partially grown in). Many dentists and dental associations recommend removing wisdom teeth because of the problems they could cause. The thing is, there isn’t much scientific evidence to support that belief.

All sorts of alarming percentages are bandied about in regards to the potential problems of keeping one’s wisdom teeth. Some believe nearly 70 percent of patients will develop problems associated with wisdom teeth. Even the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons published a statement that some 80 percent of young adults who chose to keep their wisdom teeth ended up having issues within seven years, and that the majority of them ended up having to have them removed. The association was unable to back up these claims with evidence, however.

No randomized clinical trial to determine the actual need for wisdom teeth extraction seems to have been conducted. Other countries, however, have implemented studies that provide some alternate information. A Greek study of more than 6,000 patients discovered that only a small percentage, less than 3 percent, of patients developed a tumor or cyst around impacted wisdom teeth, far fewer than experts would have us believe.

More organizations, including the American Public Health Association, are starting to question the wisdom of extracting impacted wisdom teeth. Routine removal carries more risks, it seems, than waiting until a patient develops problems. Surgery can cause nerve damage or loss of feeling, loss of sense of taste, infection, complications with anesthesia, and other problems. Those risks, the association believes, outweigh the arguments in favor of extraction, such as the possibility that surrounding teeth will become damaged or that the wisdom teeth might have bacteria and thus lead to periodontal disease.

This is not to say that you should not have wisdom teeth removed. Just be informed, ask questions, and make sure it is necessary and not just routine!

For more on this story, see this article.