The recent death of a teenager during a common surgical procedure has prompted a national conversation about the removal of wisdom teeth (third molars). Deaths like this – hypoxia from oxygen deprivation – are rare, but serious risks are inherent in any surgical procedure.
Ten million wisdom teeth are extracted in the U.S. each year. While wisdom tooth removal is undoubtedly necessary for some people, many oral surgeons advocate for the removal of the third molars to prevent potential future infections or tooth damage. Yet, studies suggest that less than 12% of wisdom tooth impactions lead to infections or damage to adjacent teeth. For comparison, about 1 in 15 people will get appendicitis – but no medical associations recommend preventative appendectomies.
For most of us, wisdom tooth removal – regardless of its necessity – is a week or two of pain and discomfort. Many people believe that because getting one’s wisdom teeth out is common, it is safe. In most cases, patients are given unsubstantiated information that might, in some circumstances, invalidate their informed consent of the potential risks of the surgery. Dr. Jay Friedman wrote in the American Journal of Public Health:
"At least two thirds of these extractions, associated costs, and injuries are unnecessary, constituting a silent epidemic of [dentist-induced] injury that afflicts tens of thousands of people with lifelong discomfort and disability," See the full text of his article: The Prophylactic Extraction of Third Molars: A Public Health Hazard.
Dangers in wisdom tooth removal include:
If your doctor or dentist recommends wisdom tooth removal, make sure you educate yourself on the procedure, and learn about your Oregon dentist or oral surgeon’s experience and record for the surgery.