Pulling Wisdom Teeth Has Surprising Benefit: Better Taste

Sofia Bening

July 20, 2021

People who've had their wisdom teeth removed have a better sense of taste decades after the surgery, according to a study that is allaying concerns about side effects related to the procedure.

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 healthy and correctly aligned in the mouth, they can be beneficial, but when these molars crowd nearby teeth or don't emerge fully from the gums, they have to be removed.

Studies so far have focused on people who say dental work weakened their sense of taste, reports senior author Richard Doty, PhD, director of the Smell and Taste Center at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. However, those symptoms are believed to ease over time, he adds.

To assess the long-term effects of the surgery, he and his colleague, dental student Dane Kim, tracked more than 1200 people for 20 years.

The pair evaluated 891 people who had undergone third-molar extraction and 364 who had not. All were asked to swish different tasting solutions — sweet, sour, salty, or bitter — in their mouths.

Overall, taste test scores were better for people who had had their wisdom teeth removed than for those with a full set of 32 adult teeth.

Why this happens remains a mystery. It is possible that nerve damage to the taste buds during molar extraction increases whole-mouth sensitivity, the researchers speculate. Or, it could be that nerve injury triggers a type of oral hypersensitivity.

The study was supported in part by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.


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