A little more than a year ago, we wrote about routine wisdom tooth removal, which continues to be one of our most often accessed posts. Our take was that while there are certainly some cases in which removal of the third molars may be beneficial, the idea that everyone should get them removed “just in case” is medical excess masquerading as preventive care.
So we were glad to read that the NIH has launched a study of wisdom teeth extractions to help determine what practice parameters will be in patients’ best interests. According to a Washington Post report,
The study will look at the reasons given by general dentists when they recommend either keeping or pulling third molars and what the patients then decide to do. It will follow those patients for two years after their decision to assess rates of complications, according to Greg Huang, principal investigator for the study and head of the Department of Orthodontics at University of Washington School of Dentistry.
“There isn’t any good information about the life cycle of third molars,” said Donald DeNucci, a periodontist with NIH’S National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research in Bethesda. “In Great Britain, they have been looking at this closer. They state that if a wisdom tooth has a cavity or is causing swelling of the gum or has periodontal issues, remove it. Then things move into the gray area, where it’s not so clear. In Great Britain, the National Health Service now says if impacted wisdom teeth are not causing problems, don’t remove them.” DeNucci said the NIH study will help oral surgeons and dentists in this country make informed decisions about wisdom teeth based on scientific evidence.
The whole article is an interesting read, and we do recommend it, even as much of it covers some familiar ground to our regular readers. But there’s one point we’d like to draw your attention to, as it brings up a whole set of issues about preventive dental care.
In the midst of information as to why we have wisdom teeth at all, the reporter writes that
they are also considered a remnant of our hunter-gatherer past. “The third molar functioned when the human diet was very coarse,” DeNucci said. “Teeth ground down and wore out. It is possible the third molar came in late to fill in the chewing function. Jaws were larger back then. Now, the human jaw is getting smaller, and our teeth haven’t caught up.” (emphasis added)
This shrinking of the human jaw, of course, is something that Dr. Weston Price discovered in his research travels for what became his book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. Narrowing of the jaws – and subsequent crowding of the teeth – is something that he repeatedly found among populations that had turned from their natural, indigenous diet to one that included refined sugar and white flour. Considering how even more sugar-laden and carb-heavy the Western diet has become through recent decades, it’s not hard to see that this smaller jaw syndrome is being spurred at least in part by our notoriously bad diets.
One may similarly wonder about the impact of increased environmental toxins – both natural and synthetic – on genetic expression as it pertains to jaw growth.
What we see here are a couple of opportunities for preventing or at least limiting potential wisdom teeth problems: healthy eating and living as nontoxic a lifestyle as possible, which includes pursuing detox measures to mitigate the effects of unavoidable toxins, to keep the body as healthy and robust as possible, able to defend itself against the daily onslaught.
Additionally, orthodontic and dental orthopedic therapy, including myofunctional therapy, at a young age can also help minimize the risk of wisdom teeth overwhelming a small, crowded mouth. And it should be noted that therapies are available that don’t require tooth extraction to “make space” for the teeth.
Again, taking a pro-active approach early and a preventive approach from the start can help you save a lot of time, money and potential grief down the road.