Is there justification for prophylactic extraction of third molars? A systematic review

Moacir Guilherme da Costa Camila Alessandra Pazzini Mariele Cristina Garcia Pantuzo Maria Letícia Ramos Jorge Leandro Silva Marques About the authors

Abstract

The present systematic review was performed to investigate if there is evidence justifying the prophylactic extraction of third molars, one of the most frequent procedures in oral surgery. A series of searches was carried out for randomized, clinical trials and systematic reviews in seven databases (MEDLINE, BBO, LILACS, Web of Science, EMBASE, BIREME and Cochrane Library), with no restrictions regarding year or language. A supplemental manual search of the references of retrieved articles was also performed. The search strategy resulted in 260 papers. Both the data extracted and the quality of each paper were evaluated independently by two reviewers. After selection based on the preestablished eligibility criteria, four papers qualified for the final analysis. A medium degree of quality and methodological consistency was found in three studies, and low quality was found in one study. No studies showed a high degree of consistency. The most significant flaw was an inadequate sample size. The results of the present review indicate a lack of scientific evidence to justify the indication of the prophylactic extraction of third molars.

Tooth Extraction; Molar, Third; Pathology; Crowding


Introduction

Third molar extraction is one of the most frequent procedures in oral surgery. Ten million teeth are extracted from approximately five million individuals every year in the United States alone, with an annual cost of over US$3 billion.11. Friedman JW. The prophylactic extraction of third molars: a public health hazard. Am J Public Health. 2007 Sep;97(9):1554-9. In England and Wales, expenditures on prophylactic extractions between 1995 and 1996 amounted to approximately £5.2 million.22. Song F, O'Meara S, Wilson P, Golder S, Kleijnen J. The effectiveness and cost effectiveness of prophylactic removal of wisdom teeth. Health Technol Assess. 2000 Jul;4(15):1-55. The reason for these extractions is the high incidence of impaction, often associated with a number of oral problems, such as pericoronitis, periodontal defects in the distal region of the second molar, caries in the third or second molars, different types of odontogenic cysts and tumors, and crowding of the lower incisors.33. Laskin DM. Evaluation of the third molar problem. J Am Dent Assoc. 1971 Apr;82(4):824-8.66. Stanley HR, Alattar M, Collett WK, Stringfellow HR Jr, Spiegel EH. Pathological sequelae of “neglected” impacted third molars. J Oral Pathol. 1988 Mar;17(3):113-7.

Although a number of studies have been published on third molar extraction, the conflicting results hinder the decision-making process. The controversies are related to inadequate study designs, small sample size, insufficient monitoring time and methodological flaws.33. Laskin DM. Evaluation of the third molar problem. J Am Dent Assoc. 1971 Apr;82(4):824-8.2828. Mettes TG, Ghaeminia H, Nienhuijs ME, Perry J, Van der Sanden WJ, Plasschaert AJ. Surgical removal versus retention for the management of asymptomatic impacted wisdom teeth. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 Jun 13;6:CD003879. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD003879.pub3.
https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD00387...

The aim of the present study was to perform a systematic review of the literature, to discuss consensual aspects and controversies related to third molar extraction, and to answer the following question: Is there evidence to justify the prophylactic extraction of third molars?

Methodology

Search strategy

A series of searches was performed for texts published up to August 30, 2012, with no restrictions regarding language, age, gender or date of publication. The following key words were used:

  1. “asymptomatic impacted third molar,”

  2. “pericoronitis,”

  3. “periodontal problems, third molar,”

  4. “complication asymptomatic third molar,”

  5. “impacted third molar complications,”

  6. “third molar, surgery, causes,” and

  7. “extraction of third molars, crowding lower jaw.”

The following databases were searched:

  1. Latin American and Caribbean Center on Health Sciences Information - BIREME (www.bireme.br): Lilacs (Literature in Health Sciences published in Latin America and the Caribbean since 1982), Medline via OVID (International Medical and Biomedical Literature, compiled since 1965), and EMBASE via OVID.

  2. Web of Science (www.thomsonisi.com): database of sciences, social sciences, arts and humanities;

  3. Cochrane Library: access to databases on systematic reviews of controlled studies of the Cochrane Collaboration, evaluation of health technologies, Cochrane Oral Health Group's Trials Register; the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL); BBO (Brazilian Bibliography of Dentistry).

A series of manual searches was also performed, based on the lists of references of the articles retrieved from the different databases. Data were collected on author, year of publication, study design, study groups, methods/measures and results. A quality assessment of preestablished characteristics was performed, to document the methodological strength of each paper.1111. Antczak AA, Tang J, Chalmers TC. Quality assessment of randomized control trials in dental research I. Methods. J Periodontal Res. 1986 Jul;21(4):305-14.,1212. Jadad AR, Moore RA, Carroll D, Jenkinson C, Reynolds DJ, Gavaghan DJ, McQuay HJ. Assessing the quality of reports of randomized clinical trials: is blinding necessary?. Control Clin Trials. 1996 Feb;17(1):1-12. The eight variables investigated in the quality assessment are listed in Table 1.

Table 1
Scores used for quality analysis of papers selected.

Sample size was considered adequate when the sample size calculation was presented. Measurement methods were considered valid when a measurement error test was presented. Each study was classified based on the scores attributed:

  1. low quality (0 to 5 points),

  2. medium quality (6 to 8 points) or

  3. high quality (9 to 10 points).

Data extraction and the quality assessment of each paper were performed independently by two researchers, who selected papers based on a reading of the title and the abstract. All papers that appeared to meet the eligibility criteria were selected. A high level of agreement between the researchers was found in this step. A manual search of the reference lists from the selected papers was also performed to obtain additional relevant publications that might have been missed in the database searches.

Selection criteria

Only randomized controlled clinical trials and systematic reviews addressing the main indications, the effect of prophylactic third molar extraction and the non-intervention (maintenance) of asymptomatic impacted third molars were selected for the present review (Table 2).

Table 2
Initial inclusion and exclusion criteria for the studies retrieved.

Data acquisition and analysis

Data were collected on conditions that could indicate the prophylactic extraction of impacted third molars:

  1. pericoronitis,

  2. caries and periodontal problems in the distal region of the second molars,

  3. odontogenic cysts and tumors, and

  4. crowding of the lower incisors.

Results

The search strategy yielded 260 papers. Four studies qualified for the final analysis (Table 3), following a selection based on the preestablished eligibility criteria. The complete texts of these papers were obtained for analysis.

Table 3
Studies selected.

Quality of the studies

A medium degree of quality and methodological consistency was found in three studies and low quality was found in one study (Table 4). No studies showed a high degree of consistency. The most significant flaw was an inadequate sample size. Other flaws included the failure to declare the blinded assessment of the measurements and confounding factors. Only one paper adequately described the method of error analysis.

Table 4
Quality evaluation of the studies retrieved.

Discussion

None of the studies fulfilled the eligibility criteria established for the present systematic review. This finding demonstrates the scarcity of consistent papers and inadequate scientific evidence that could otherwise allow surgeon dentists to make decisions regarding reliable indications for the prophylactic extraction of third molars and the determination of which cases should be followed up. Meta-analysis and heterogeneity were not performed due to the small number of studies with different methodologies found.

The prophylactic extraction of asymptomatic impacted wisdom teeth is defined as the (surgical) removal of wisdom teeth in the absence of local disease.2828. Mettes TG, Ghaeminia H, Nienhuijs ME, Perry J, Van der Sanden WJ, Plasschaert AJ. Surgical removal versus retention for the management of asymptomatic impacted wisdom teeth. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 Jun 13;6:CD003879. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD003879.pub3.
https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD00387...
In this context, critical appraisal of the literature reveals that prophylactic extraction of third molars occurs in a disorderly manner without clearly defined criteria. Approximately 75% of individuals who receive regular dental care have their third molars removed.44. Schulhof RJ. Third molars and orthodontic diagnosis. J Clin Orthod. 1976 Apr;10(4):272-81. In addition to the pathological conditions sometimes caused by these teeth, other criteria are used to justify the decision to extract, including indications for orthodontic, prosthetic or restorative purposes.1313. Chaparro-Avendaño AV, Pérez-García S, Valmaseda-Castellón E, Berini-Aytés L, Gay-Escoda C. Morbidity of third molar extraction in patients between 12 and 18 years of age. Med Oral Patol Oral Cir Bucal. 2005 Nov-Dec;10(5):422-31.,1414. Kruger E, Thomson WM, Konthasinghe P. Third molar out-comes from age 18 to 26: findings from a population-based New Zealand longitudinal study. Oral Surg Oral Med Oral Pathol Oral Radiol Endod. 2001 Aug;92(2):150-5. Moreover, the risks of surgery and associated complications are justified and uniformly accepted by the majority of dental surgeons, when there is clinical, radiological or laboratorial evidence of acute or chronic periodontitis, caries, pericoronitis, harmful effects on second molars or disease.1515. Marciani RD. Third molar removal: an overview of indications, imaging, evaluation, and assessment of risk. Oral Maxillofac Surg Clin North Am. 2007 Feb;19(1):1-13.,1616. Bagheri SC, Khan AH. Extraction versus nonextraction management of third molars. Oral Maxillofac Surg Clin North Am. 2007 Feb;19(1):15-21.

Authors enumerate the main reasons leading to the prophylactic extraction of third molars, but these indications do not have sufficient evidence on which to base such a decision.33. Laskin DM. Evaluation of the third molar problem. J Am Dent Assoc. 1971 Apr;82(4):824-8.66. Stanley HR, Alattar M, Collett WK, Stringfellow HR Jr, Spiegel EH. Pathological sequelae of “neglected” impacted third molars. J Oral Pathol. 1988 Mar;17(3):113-7. Partially erupted third molars have the greatest likelihood of developing pericoronitis, and are therefore indicated for prophylactic extraction.99. Wang XL. [Correlation study on acute pericoronitis and the position of the mandibular impacted third molar]. Shanghai Kou Qiang Yi Xue. 1995 Jun;4(2):70-2. Chinese.,1010. Yamalik K, Bozkaya S. The predictivity of mandibular third molar position as a risk indicator for pericoronitis. Clin Oral Investig. 2008 Mar;12(1):9-14. Mohammed-Ali et al. 1717. Mohammed-Ali RI, Collyer J, Garg M. Osteomyelitis of the mandible secondary to pericoronitis of an impacted third molar. Dent Update. 2010 Mar;37(2):106-8. report two cases of osteomyelitis in the mandible, with development secondary to pericoronitis in partially erupted third molars. McArdle and Renton1818. McArdle LW, Renton TF. Distal cervical caries in the mandibular second molar: an indication for the prophylactic removal of the third molar?. Br J Oral Maxillofac Surg. 2006 Feb;44(1):42-5. indicate the prophylactic extraction of third molars for the prevention of caries on the distal face of the second molars. According to Allen et al. 1919. Allen RT, Witherow H, Collyer J, Roper-Hall R, Nazir MA, Mathew G. The mesioangular third molar-to extract or not to extract? Analysis of 776 consecutive third molars. Br Dent J. 2009 Jun 13;206(11):586-7., it is common to find caries on the distal surface of second molars when third molars are either completely or partially erupted. Should conservative treatment be elected, interproximal radiographs are recommended.

Kan et al. 88. Kan KW, Liu JK, Lo EC, Corbet EF, Leung WK. Residual periodontal defects distal to the mandibular second molar 6-36 months after impacted third molar extraction. J Clin Periodontol. 2002 Nov;29(11):1004-11. justifies prophylactic extraction in cases of periodontal defects. However, Richardson and Dodson2020. Richardson DT, Dodson TB. Risk of periodontal defects after third molar surgery: An exercise in evidence-based clinical decision-making. Oral Surg Oral Med Oral Pathol Oral Radiol Endod. 2005 Aug;100(2):133-7. state that the indication for third molar extraction should be evaluated carefully in individuals with a healthy periodontium in the region of the second molar, since this procedure heightens the risk of greater probing depth and attachment loss. The extraction of lower third molars could lead to periodontal defects in the distal region of the adjacent second molar.2121. Sammartino G, Tia M, Bucci T, Wang HL. Prevention of mandibular third molar extraction-associated periodontal defects: a comparative study. J Periodontol. 2009 Mar;80(3):389-96.

Harradine et al. 2222. Harradine NW, Pearson MH, Toth B. The effect of extraction of third molars on late lower incisor crowding: a randomized controlled trial.Br J Orthod. 1998 May;25(2):117-22. conclude that the extraction of third molars to reduce or prevent late crowding of the incisors is not justified, and should therefore not be considered as having a scientific basis. Likewise, Lindqvist and Thilander2323. Lindqvist B, Thilander B. Extraction of third molars in cases of anticipated crowding in the lower jaw. Am J Orthod. 1982 Feb;81(2):130-9. evaluated adolescents with non-erupted third molars, and could not predict which patients would benefit and which would suffer negative consequences in regard to late crowding following extraction of impacted third molars.

The consequences of extraction for patients should also be analyzed. Song et al. 22. Song F, O'Meara S, Wilson P, Golder S, Kleijnen J. The effectiveness and cost effectiveness of prophylactic removal of wisdom teeth. Health Technol Assess. 2000 Jul;4(15):1-55. suggest that a “wait-and-see conduct” could be a promising strategy. Jerjes et al. 2424. Jerjes W, Upile T, Nhembe F, Gudka D, Shah P, Abbas S, et al. Experience in third molar surgery: an update. Br Dent J. 2010 Jul 10;209(1):E1. enumerated postoperative complications stemming from third molar extractions performed by residents and specialists; trismus, alveolar osteitis and paresthesia of the lingual and inferior alveolar nerves were reported among extractions performed by residents, and postoperative bleeding was reported among extractions performed by specialists.

Countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom spend large amounts of money on these procedures annually, using funds that could otherwise be spent on other health programs.11. Friedman JW. The prophylactic extraction of third molars: a public health hazard. Am J Public Health. 2007 Sep;97(9):1554-9.,22. Song F, O'Meara S, Wilson P, Golder S, Kleijnen J. The effectiveness and cost effectiveness of prophylactic removal of wisdom teeth. Health Technol Assess. 2000 Jul;4(15):1-55. The extraction of asymptomatic impacted third molars that could remain disease-free for an undetermined amount of time places an unnecessary burden on healthcare funds. The assessment of health risks and cost effectiveness regarding the prophylactic extraction of asymptomatic impacted wisdom teeth should play a more prominent role in the decision-making process.2525. Edwards MJ, Brickley MR, Goodey RD, Shepherd JP. The cost, effectiveness and cost- effectiveness of removal and retention of asymptomatic, disease free third molars. Br Dent J. 1999 Oct 9;187(7):380-4.

Insecurity in making diagnosis and the lack of a protocol for the extraction or non-extraction of third molars are clearly demonstrated.2626. Van der Sanden WJ, Mettes DG, Plasschaert AJ, Grol RP, Mulder J, Verdonschot EH. Effectiveness of clinical practice guideline implementation on lower third molar management in improving clinical decision-making: a randomized controlled trial. Eur J Oral Sci. 2005 Oct;113(5):349-54. When a clinical practice guide was given to dentists, a drastic reduction in the number of indications for extraction occurred. In other words, when dentists have a greater scientific foundation, they modify how they conduct themselves in the decision-making process from a clinical standpoint. Further studies on this issue are eagerly awaited, insofar as dental surgeons should base their justifications for prophylactic third-molar extractions on scientific evidence and studies that can reliably clarify indications for extraction or non-intervention.2727. Mettes TG, Nienhuijs ME, Van der Sanden WJ, Verdonschot EH, Plasschaert AJ. Interventions for treating asymptomatic impacted wisdom teeth in adolescents and adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2005 Apr;18(2):CD003879.

The clinical implications of how asymptomatic impacted third molars should be handled were well described by Mettes et al. 2727. Mettes TG, Nienhuijs ME, Van der Sanden WJ, Verdonschot EH, Plasschaert AJ. Interventions for treating asymptomatic impacted wisdom teeth in adolescents and adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2005 Apr;18(2):CD003879.:

“The dental clinician, who examines healthy individuals in the course of assigning a recall interval, should be responsible for monitoring third molars in recurrent communication with patients and, where there are more complex cases, with the oral and maxillofacial surgeon as a consultant. Special attention should be paid to the onset of pathology, based on explicit terminology and definitions, the monitoring and registration of morbidity and quality of life aspects (i.e. patients' perspective, values and attitudes). Clinicians should make it clear to adult patients with asymptomatic third molars that there is no evidence one way or the other about the benefits or otherwise of removing these molars. The same communication strategy to adolescents and their parents regarding the impact of surgical removal on late lower incisor crowding should be advocated.”

Conclusions

The data encountered in the present systematic review demonstrate the lack of studies on which to base adequate clinical decisions regarding indications for the prophylactic extraction of third molars. The only scientific proof points to the non-indication of prophylactic extraction for the purpose of preventing late crowding of the lower incisors.

References

  • 1
    Friedman JW. The prophylactic extraction of third molars: a public health hazard. Am J Public Health. 2007 Sep;97(9):1554-9.
  • 2
    Song F, O'Meara S, Wilson P, Golder S, Kleijnen J. The effectiveness and cost effectiveness of prophylactic removal of wisdom teeth. Health Technol Assess. 2000 Jul;4(15):1-55.
  • 3
    Laskin DM. Evaluation of the third molar problem. J Am Dent Assoc. 1971 Apr;82(4):824-8.
  • 4
    Schulhof RJ. Third molars and orthodontic diagnosis. J Clin Orthod. 1976 Apr;10(4):272-81.
  • 5
    Lysell L, Rohlin M. A study of indications used for removal of the mandibular third molar. Int J Oral Maxillofac Surg. 1988 Jun;17(3):161-4.
  • 6
    Stanley HR, Alattar M, Collett WK, Stringfellow HR Jr, Spiegel EH. Pathological sequelae of “neglected” impacted third molars. J Oral Pathol. 1988 Mar;17(3):113-7.
  • 7
    McArdle LW, Renton TF. Distal cervical caries in the mandibular second molar: an indication for the prophylactic removal of the third molar?. Br J Oral Maxillofac Surg. 2006 Feb;44(1):42-5.
  • 8
    Kan KW, Liu JK, Lo EC, Corbet EF, Leung WK. Residual periodontal defects distal to the mandibular second molar 6-36 months after impacted third molar extraction. J Clin Periodontol. 2002 Nov;29(11):1004-11.
  • 9
    Wang XL. [Correlation study on acute pericoronitis and the position of the mandibular impacted third molar]. Shanghai Kou Qiang Yi Xue. 1995 Jun;4(2):70-2. Chinese.
  • 10
    Yamalik K, Bozkaya S. The predictivity of mandibular third molar position as a risk indicator for pericoronitis. Clin Oral Investig. 2008 Mar;12(1):9-14.
  • 11
    Antczak AA, Tang J, Chalmers TC. Quality assessment of randomized control trials in dental research I. Methods. J Periodontal Res. 1986 Jul;21(4):305-14.
  • 12
    Jadad AR, Moore RA, Carroll D, Jenkinson C, Reynolds DJ, Gavaghan DJ, McQuay HJ. Assessing the quality of reports of randomized clinical trials: is blinding necessary?. Control Clin Trials. 1996 Feb;17(1):1-12.
  • 13
    Chaparro-Avendaño AV, Pérez-García S, Valmaseda-Castellón E, Berini-Aytés L, Gay-Escoda C. Morbidity of third molar extraction in patients between 12 and 18 years of age. Med Oral Patol Oral Cir Bucal. 2005 Nov-Dec;10(5):422-31.
  • 14
    Kruger E, Thomson WM, Konthasinghe P. Third molar out-comes from age 18 to 26: findings from a population-based New Zealand longitudinal study. Oral Surg Oral Med Oral Pathol Oral Radiol Endod. 2001 Aug;92(2):150-5.
  • 15
    Marciani RD. Third molar removal: an overview of indications, imaging, evaluation, and assessment of risk. Oral Maxillofac Surg Clin North Am. 2007 Feb;19(1):1-13.
  • 16
    Bagheri SC, Khan AH. Extraction versus nonextraction management of third molars. Oral Maxillofac Surg Clin North Am. 2007 Feb;19(1):15-21.
  • 17
    Mohammed-Ali RI, Collyer J, Garg M. Osteomyelitis of the mandible secondary to pericoronitis of an impacted third molar. Dent Update. 2010 Mar;37(2):106-8.
  • 18
    McArdle LW, Renton TF. Distal cervical caries in the mandibular second molar: an indication for the prophylactic removal of the third molar?. Br J Oral Maxillofac Surg. 2006 Feb;44(1):42-5.
  • 19
    Allen RT, Witherow H, Collyer J, Roper-Hall R, Nazir MA, Mathew G. The mesioangular third molar-to extract or not to extract? Analysis of 776 consecutive third molars. Br Dent J. 2009 Jun 13;206(11):586-7.
  • 20
    Richardson DT, Dodson TB. Risk of periodontal defects after third molar surgery: An exercise in evidence-based clinical decision-making. Oral Surg Oral Med Oral Pathol Oral Radiol Endod. 2005 Aug;100(2):133-7.
  • 21
    Sammartino G, Tia M, Bucci T, Wang HL. Prevention of mandibular third molar extraction-associated periodontal defects: a comparative study. J Periodontol. 2009 Mar;80(3):389-96.
  • 22
    Harradine NW, Pearson MH, Toth B. The effect of extraction of third molars on late lower incisor crowding: a randomized controlled trial.Br J Orthod. 1998 May;25(2):117-22.
  • 23
    Lindqvist B, Thilander B. Extraction of third molars in cases of anticipated crowding in the lower jaw. Am J Orthod. 1982 Feb;81(2):130-9.
  • 24
    Jerjes W, Upile T, Nhembe F, Gudka D, Shah P, Abbas S, et al. Experience in third molar surgery: an update. Br Dent J. 2010 Jul 10;209(1):E1.
  • 25
    Edwards MJ, Brickley MR, Goodey RD, Shepherd JP. The cost, effectiveness and cost- effectiveness of removal and retention of asymptomatic, disease free third molars. Br Dent J. 1999 Oct 9;187(7):380-4.
  • 26
    Van der Sanden WJ, Mettes DG, Plasschaert AJ, Grol RP, Mulder J, Verdonschot EH. Effectiveness of clinical practice guideline implementation on lower third molar management in improving clinical decision-making: a randomized controlled trial. Eur J Oral Sci. 2005 Oct;113(5):349-54.
  • 27
    Mettes TG, Nienhuijs ME, Van der Sanden WJ, Verdonschot EH, Plasschaert AJ. Interventions for treating asymptomatic impacted wisdom teeth in adolescents and adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2005 Apr;18(2):CD003879.
  • 28
    Mettes TG, Ghaeminia H, Nienhuijs ME, Perry J, Van der Sanden WJ, Plasschaert AJ. Surgical removal versus retention for the management of asymptomatic impacted wisdom teeth. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 Jun 13;6:CD003879. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD003879.pub3.
    » https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD003879.pub3

Publication Dates

  • Publication in this collection
    Mar-Apr 2013

History

  • Received
    31 Aug 2012
  • Accepted
    13 Dec 2012
  • Reviewed
    13 Dec 2012
Sociedade Brasileira de Pesquisa Odontológica - SBPqO Av. Prof. Lineu Prestes, 2227, 05508-000 São Paulo SP - Brazil, Tel. (55 11) 3044-2393/(55 11) 9-7557-1244 - São Paulo - SP - Brazil
E-mail: office.bor@ingroup.srv.br