What you need to know to get smart about wisdom teeth
Expert dentists are focusing on the importance of educating their patients about wisdom teeth.
When it comes to removing wisdom teeth, many Americans could use a bit of wisdom about what the process entails and why it may be recommended.
One expert dentist, Dr. Fredric Bonine, is making it his mission to teach them. A practicing oral and maxillofacial surgeon since 1984 and a Michigan native, Dr. Bonine works with patients from Brighton, Oakland, Wayne and surrounding counties. With so much misinformation about wisdom teeth, Bonine and his partner, Dr. Gary Forgach, are working to set the record straight.
Task force takeaways support early removal
As a member of the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (AAOMS), Bonine was part of a 2007 task force to perform a comprehensive review of medical literature relating to wisdom teeth removal. The task force resulted in a white paper detailing specific, evidence-based best practices.
Since then, Bonine and other doctors have been using the takeaways from that research to educate patients on their options for keeping or removing their wisdom teeth, and on the consequences of either scenario.
For example, studies show that the optimal age for wisdom teeth removal is when a patient is between 15 and 17 years old to have optimal results. Additionally, after age 25, postoperative risks and complications become increasingly likely.
Together with additional research showing that 33% of patients who keep their wisdom teeth will have a “silent infection” by the age of 25, the data makes a strong argument for at least considering wisdom teeth removal before that age. A “silent infection” of a patient’s wisdom teeth can manifest without pain and any symptoms but can have a wide range of negative health consequences from heart disease or stroke to low birth-weight pregnancies.
There are additional damaging effects of wisdom teeth that can go unnoticed until it’s too late. According to the AAOMS white paper, radiographs show that wisdom teeth often cause damage to other teeth as well as gum damage, significantly increasing a patient’s risk for gum disease.
“Doctor” means “teacher”
All of the reasons cited in the AAOMS white paper support the idea that wisdom teeth removal may have an overall positive effect on dental health, even when more well-known factors such as tooth positioning and impaction are not concerns.
In order to educate patients about the implications of keeping or removing their wisdom teeth, it is important for dentists to serve a dual role for their patients: doctor and teacher. For Bonine and Forgach, the two are inseparable. On his website, Bonine cites the value of educating patients as part of his job: “I heard once upon a time that doctor equals teacher. I have never forgotten that, and I have practiced it every day for over 34 years.”
In the case of wisdom teeth removal, Bonine and Forgach use a holistic and evidence-based approach to educate patients and help patients decide which route they want to take. They also use state-of-the-art equipment like 3D cone beam technology to assess the position of a patient’s wisdom teeth and help each individual understand their personal risk factors. Overall, the role of the dentists is to arm the patient with the information he or she needs to make the best decision possible for their oral health.
Options for pain management and opioid-free surgery
As with any elective surgery, there are always pros and cons. For many oral surgery patients, one of the biggest cons that give them pause is an uneasiness about the resulting pain, especially if their wisdom teeth are not currently causing them any pain.
Luckily, the surgery is relatively minor. According to Bonine, the entire appointment is usually completed in approximately one hour, with the surgery itself only taking a matter of minutes. As for pain management, patients have the choice of IV sedation or general anesthesia. Additionally, many practices such as Bonine and Forgach find that opioid-free pain medications are powerful enough to deliver excellent results.
Many dental practices can take additional measures to help a patient feel comfortable and relaxed leading up to as well as after the surgery. At Bonine’s state-of-the-art Brighton facility, for example, many patients find it easy to keep calm in the tranquil, relaxing setting with floor-to-ceiling windows and a waiting room overlooking a grove of oak trees.
After the surgery, a patient can also take anti-swelling medications to avoid the notorious “chipmunk cheeks” and allow a patient to return to school or work without worrying about their appearance.
A total of 85% of Americans will get their wisdom teeth removed during their lifetime, putting those without wisdom teeth in the majority. For those who elect to do so, the quick and often painless surgery is a small price to pay to maintain their oral health, especially when guided by a dentist they trust.
To learn more about Dr. Fredric Bonine and Dr. Gary Forgach, visit their practice’s website at drbonine.com.
Members of the editorial and news staff of The Detroit News were not involved in the creation of this content.