Why You Should Think Twice About Having Your Teen's Wisdom Teeth Removed

wisdom toothIf you're like most adults, you've probably been missing your wisdom teeth for quite some time: Some 10 million "third molars" are removed in America every year (as of 2011). And if you've got a teen, you're probably wondering when to schedule this dental rite of passage -- but you might want to hold off. Some experts believe the extractions aren't just unnecessary, but potentially harmful!

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Take Dr. Jay Friedman, for example. Friedman has spent the last 30 years fighting the wisdom teeth removal trend, as he believes that the procedures lead to more long-term risks than just leaving them in would (a study he published in 2007 found that an estimated two-thirds of the millions of wisdom teeth removed every year could have stayed put).

The complication rate for wisdom teeth surgery is between 7 percent and 10 percent, and those complications can be pretty severe, ranging from pain and swelling to hemorrhage, jawbone fractures, and permanent numbness of the lips, tongue, and cheek. In rare cases, wisdom teeth removal can even have fatal consequences; Minnesota teen Sydney Galleger died after going into cardiac arrest while getting her wisdom teeth removed.

There's enough evidence out there to make anyone wonder if this procedure should be quite so commonplace -- even the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons released a paper detailing their conservative policy on the topic, which states that "while not all third molars require surgical management, given the documented high incidence of problems associated with third molars over time, all patients should be evaluated by someone experienced and expert in third molar management."

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Of course, there are legitimate reasons for getting wisdom teeth removed: Ingrown or impacted wisdom teeth can cause all sorts of issues, including decay and infections. But with all of the potential for problems, is there really any point to removing healthy wisdom teeth -- especially in teens? It's a risk I don't think I'll take with my kids, unless they really need it. Surgery is never something to be taken lightly, even if it's an outpatient procedure that's supposedly "no big deal." 

We may never get our wisdom teeth back, but at least we can be "wise" about the choices we make for our children!

 

Image via iStock.com/razyph

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