The removal of wisdom teeth as a just in case (prophylactic) measure is one of the most common operations and just about one of the most unnecessary.
Wisdom teeth, or third molars, are traditionally removed even when they have not erupted because it is thought they weaken the lower jaw to the point where it may fracture.
Yet there is not one scrap of scientific evidence to support this belief, reveal oral surgeon Jonathan Shepherd and research fellow Mark Brickley, from the University of Wales College of Medicine in Cardiff.
If the procedure is unnecessary, it is also not without risk. Pain, swelling and trismus (lockjaw) are almost universal after surgery, and incidence of nerve damage is also high. Up to 15 per cent of patients suffer some numbness of the tongue, which can be permanent in 0.5 per cent of cases.
Not only is it a dangerous procedure, it is also an expensive one. In Britain alone, it cost the National Health Service £23.3m in 1990 (and figures for 1992 show a similar sum was spent in the private sector).
“The prophylactic removal of third molars should be abandoned,” conclude Shepherd and Brickley.
!ABMJ, 10 September 1994.