Pulling wisdom teeth may not be wise

Most people expect to have their wisdom teeth pulled because that has been the common practice for decades. The thinking is that wisdom teeth (third molars) have to come out when a person reaches young adulthood. The argument for doing so: leaving the teeth in will eventually result in problems, such as infection, gum disease, abscesses, cysts and even tumors.

Dr. Greg Huang, Chairman of the UW Department of Orthodontics, is using a network of 50 practicing dentists to investigate third molar management. While results aren’t in yet, Huang advises parents to talk to their child’s dentist or orthodontist to determine if an X-ray indicates potential problems, or if these molars are developing normally. It may be, Huang says, that for those whose wisdom teeth are developing normally, a watchful waiting approach may be reasonable.

While these unpleasant problems may come to the fore in some people, there is limited evidence on how frequently these problems really occur. In Great Britain, the National Health Services no longer pays for precautionary removal of asymptomatic third molars, since there is no reliable evidence that it is beneficial.