Wisdom Teeth Removal Often Unnecessary
Study: Taking Out Symptom-Free Wisdom Teeth Neither Helps nor Hurts Health
May 5, 2005 -- Teens often have their wisdom teeth removed. But there's no evidence this painful procedure prevents future trouble.
That's the conclusion of a careful review of dental studies by a research team including Dirk G. Mettes, DMD, of Radboud University Medical Center in, Nijmegen, Netherlands. Although Mettes and colleagues looked at 40 studies, they found only two controlled clinical trials of wisdom tooth removal.
The bottom line: If impacted wisdom teeth are not causing trouble, there's no evidence that removing them helps or hurts future health. But there is some evidence that removing teens' impacted wisdom teeth "to reduce or prevent late incisor crowding cannot be justified," the researchers conclude.
Wisdom Tooth Removal: Surgery, Not a Rite of Passage
How controversial is it to remove wisdom teeth that aren't currently causing problems? Two dentists who spoke with WebMD agree that there's no reason to remove perfectly healthy wisdom teeth. Both agree that troublesome wisdom teeth should be removed. And both say that there has to be a medical reason to perform such a serious surgery.
Eric K. Curtis, DDS, spokesman for the Academy of General Dentistry and a private-practice dentist in Safford, Ariz., says it comes down to what an individual dentist thinks is best for an individual patient.
"In my practice, about 75% of the asymptomatic (without symptoms), impacted wisdom teeth I see I take out," Curtis tells WebMD. "It is subjective. There is no decision tree to tell us, 'If this happens, take the tooth out,' or 'If this happens, leave it in.' It comes down to your own sense of what is right and wrong and to patients' own preferences."
Mohamed Bassiouny, DMD, PhD, professor of dentistry at Temple University -- the oldest dental school in the U.S. -- in June will celebrate his 40th anniversary as a dentist.
But isn't it normal for teen's to have their wisdom teeth removed? Not to Bassiouny.
"It is a shame," Bassiouny tells WebMD. "It should not be considered that way. God gave us a full set of teeth. We should live with it."
Wisdom tooth removal is so common, Curtis says, that patients have stopped thinking of it as a serious medical procedure.
"In the public's mind, dentistry is really routine," he says. "You turn 18 and you think it is time for wisdom teeth to come out. It is almost ubiquitous, a rite of passage. But a dentist has to tell you maybe you should take out wisdom teeth for this, this, and this reason. But there is this, this, and this risk, too. You have to decide if it is worth it."
Wisdom teeth typically emerge around age 17 to 24 or later. Wisdom teeth can be a problem because the human jaw is shorter than it was early in our evolution. And these teeth are at the very end of the jaw, Curtis notes.