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Is Wisdom Teeth Extraction Really Necessary? Family Sues Oral Surgeon After Daughter Dies

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The family of a teenage girl is suing an oral surgeon and an anesthesiologist after their daughter died during a wisdom teeth extraction surgery earlier this year. They allege that their daughter, 17-year-old Jenny Olenick, died as a result of complications during the procedure. Specifically, they cite Dr. Domenick Coletti, the oral surgeon, and Dr. Krista Michael Isaacs, the anesthesiologist, as negligent in their failure to resuscitate their daughter after her heart rate and blood oxygen level fell.

Naturally, wisdom tooth extraction carries risk like any other surgery–the most common risk is nerve damage to the mouth, but the surgery has also been linked to jaw fractures, brain tissue infections, and blood hypoxia. However, several recent teen deaths associated with removing wisdom teeth have attracted so much attention that even some dentists are beginning to speak out against the procedure as unnecessary and ultimately a scam to make money. For example, Dr. Jay Friedman, a retired California dentist, recently published an article in the American Journal of Public Health stating that:

Third-molar surgery is a multibillion-dollar industry that generates significant income for the dental profession…It is driven by misinformation and myths that have been exposed before but that continue to be promulgated by the profession.

In fact, American dentists and oral surgeons pull approximately 10 million wisdom teeth per year, which surmounts to a $3 billion industry. Wisdom teeth removal, especially for impacted teeth, is recommended because if left intact they may damage nearby teeth or nerves or become infected. However, studies suggest that less than 12% of impactions lead to any of these problems, which is akin to the risk of appendicitis–obviously, no doctor is recommending the preemptive removal of the appendicitis for all patients. The American Academy of Public Health also recommends that only those patients with a diagnosed pathology or demonstrable need have their wisdom teeth removed.