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Dentists Question Need For Wisdom Tooth Removal

BOSTON (CBS) – Getting your wisdom teeth removed is one of the most common surgical procedures around. But some dentists are now questioning if the procedure is really necessary.

When Tara Kwilecki's dentist originally suggested her wisdom teeth come out, she resisted.

"I really didn't want to have them taken out because they weren't hurting me," says Tara.

Some dentists are agreeing with that, saying wisdom teeth don't routinely have to be removed. They compare it to an appendix, meaning leave it alone unless you have a problem.

Dr. Louis Rafetto led a task force on the routine removal of wisdom teeth and thinks they should come out. He says patients could be prone to worse problems later in life.

"Until they notice there's a problem, is really waiting until the problem has already caused some damage," says Rafetto. "This would be like saying we know somebody has high blood pressure, should we be waiting until they have symptoms?"

Dr. Rafetto believes the vast majority of people will run into problems that can be predicted far in advance.

"The longest term study which was done in Finland would indicate that 80 percent of people over an 18 year period had to have their wisdom teeth removed because they had developed problems," he says.

But other research indicates the numbers are much lower. One study shows the number of extractions could be cut by 60 percent if they were only done when patients were in pain or had other issues. That study advised monitoring the teeth as a more appropriate option.

Another popular reason oral surgeons push to remove wisdom teeth is in dispute too.

"A lot of people and dentists are under the belief that wisdom teeth can cause crowding of the teeth," says Dr. Ruben Cohen. "It has not been proven in the literature."

Dr. Ruben Cohen believes there should be good reason before removing wisdom teeth. For example, if they are not coming in straight.

Dr. Rafetto says technology has improved so much that doctors can now predict who will have damage, and putting off the inevitable will only make things worse.

Tara finally had her wisdom teeth removed when complications arose.

"I started getting headaches. I started feeling a lot of pressure around my jaw and head."

That's when there is no debate over what do to.

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