July 19, 2021 – According to a study that eliminates concerns about the side effects of the procedure, people who have had their wisdom teeth removed improve their sense of taste decades after surgery.
Wisdom teeth are the third and final set of molars that emerge from the gums when people are in their late teens or early adulthood. When they are healthy and properly placed in the mouth, they can be helpful. But when these molars crowd near the teeth or do not appear completely from the gums, they have to be removed.
So far, research has focused on people who believe that dental work has weakened their sense of taste, says senior author Richard Doty, Ph.D., director of the Center for Scent and Taste at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. But these symptoms are thought to ease over time, he says.
To assess the long-term effects of the operation, he and his colleague, dental student Dane Kim, tracked more than 1,200 people over 20 years.
The couple evaluated 891 people who received extraction of the third molar, and 364 – no. Everyone was invited to taste different solutions in their mouths – sweet, sour, salty or bitter.
Overall, taste tests were better for people who had their wisdom teeth removed than for those who had a complete set of 32 adult teeth.
Why this happens remains a mystery. It is possible that damage to the nerves of the taste buds during molar extraction increases the sensitivity of the whole mouth, the researchers said. Or it may be that the nerve injury causes a certain type of hypersensitivity in the mouth.