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To pull or not to pull: Is wisdom tooth removal a wise move?

Susan Kim

To pull or not to pull: Is wisdom tooth removal a wise move?

CREATED Nov. 19, 2011

 

Getting your wisdom teeth out--it's one of the most common surgical procedures for teens today, but it's also a hotly debated topic. So is it really wise to remove your wisdom teeth?

When Tara Kwilecki's dentist originally suggested she remove her wisdom teeth a couple years ago, she resisted. "I didn't really want to have them taken out because they weren't hurting me."

Turns out Tara is not alone in her resistance. These days, more and more health advocates are abandoning the idea that wisdom teeth have routinely got to go.

Dr. Louis Rafetto is on the American Board of Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeons. He says, "We don't remove everyone's appendix so 'Why not wait till there's a problem?' is a question that's often asked."

Dr. Rafetto led up a task force on the topic. He says by leaving your teeth in you're risking issues later in life. "Waiting until they notice that there's a problem is really waiting until the problem has already caused some damage. This would be like saying if we know somebody has high blood pressure should we wait until they start to have symptoms?"

Dr. Rafetto claims the vast majority of people will run into problems with their wisdom teeth--problems that can be predicted far in advance.

"The longest term study which was done in Finland would indicate that 80% of people over an 18 year period had to have their wisdom teeth removed because they had developed problems," Dr. Rafetto explains.

Other research indicates the numbers are actually much lower. In fact, one review shows the number of extractions could be cut by 60% if they were only done when patients were in pain or developed a condition. That study advised monitoring the teeth as a more appropriate option than removal. Another popular reason oral surgeons push for wisdom tooth removal is also in dispute. Dr. Ruben Cohen is an oral surgeon. He says, "A lot of people and dentists are under the belief that wisdom teeth can cause crowding of the teeth. It has not been proven in the literature."

Dr. Cohen believes there should be good reason before removing wisdom teeth. For example, if they're not coming in straight. Dr. Raffato says the technology has improved so much doctors can now predict who will have damage and putting off the inevitable will only make things worse, which happened with Tara.

"I started getting headaches, I started feeling a lot of pressure around my jaw and in my head," Tara recalls.

So she did have them taken out. It took a few days to heal, but she is glad to have it over with.

"I have a great peace of mind that my wisdom teeth are out and I never have to deal with them again," Tara says.

If your dentist suggests removing your wisdom teeth, find out why. It's an easier decision to make if there is a visible problem or you are in pain.

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