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Should you get your wisdom teeth removed?

November 28, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
Getting your wisdom teeth out is one of the most common surgical procedures for teens today, but it's also a hotly debated topic.

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," she said.

It turns out Kwilecki's not alone in her resistance. These days, more and more health advocates are abandoning the idea that wisdom teeth have routinely got to go. The logic?

"We don't remove everyone's appendix, so 'why not wait until there's a problem?' is a question that's often asked," said Dr. Louis Rafetto, a maxillofacial surgeon.

Dr. Rafetto led up a task force on the topic with the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons. 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?" said Dr. Rafetto.

He 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 approximately 80 percent of people over an 18-year period had to have their wisdom teeth removed because they had developed problems," said Dr. Rafetto.

But other research indicates the numbers are actually much lower.

In fact, one review shows the number of extractions could be cut by 60 percent 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.

"A lot of people and dentists are under the belief that wisdom teeth can cause crowding of your teeth. It has not been proven in the literature," said Dr. Ruben Cohen, an oral surgeon.

He 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 Kwilecki.

"I started getting headaches, I started feeling a lot of pressure around my jaw and in my head," she said of the pain.

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


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