Wisdom Teeth Can Stay, Says Oral Surgery Organization

Each year in the U.S., dentists and oral surgeons extract millions of wisdom teeth that show no signs of disease. It’s standard, preventive practice. It’s also the subject of a decades-long controversy that questions the medical legitimacy of all that surgery. There's no doubt wisdom teeth can be problematic. Technically "third molars” — they're the last four teeth to emerge, typically showing up between the ages of 17 and 25. Not everyone has all four, and a handful of people don't have any. They're the lucky ones. The problem is lack of space. The average human jaw is just too small to comfortably accommodate a third set of molars. Trying to squeeze 12 molars into a jaw that reached ideal capacity at eight can lead to unpleasant outcomes, including cysts, gum disease, tumors, infections, decay, damage to surrounding teeth and the jawbone and, of course, dental-level pain. These are all signs of diseased wisdom teeth. Everyone agrees that these teeth have to come out. It's the non-diseased teeth that raise questions. It’s the healthy wisdom teeth that have become the topic of conversation within the dental industry. They’re functional, cleanable, and fully emerged, so why extract them? Retired dentist Dr. Jay Friedman is a 40-year crusader against extraction of non-diseased wisdom teeth. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it,” said Friedman, who recommends patients ask a lot of questions before agreeing to preventive extraction. They should understand the specific reasons for the recommendation, ask for evidence of those reasons, and get clear information on the pros and cons of retaining the teeth.