The unresolved problem of the third molar: would people be better off without it?

J Am Dent Assoc. 2003 Apr;134(4):450-5. doi: 10.14219/jada.archive.2003.0194.


Background: Third molars are teeth that have little functional value and a relatively high rate of associated pain and disease. Their value as part of the dentition of modern people is dubious.

Types of studies reviewed: The authors review the evolution, development, morbidity and treatment of third molars. They assess the value of third molars in the 21st century and describe the risks these teeth pose when they develop in the dentition.

Conclusions: There is a mandate for the dental profession to improve health outcomes and quality of life. The prevention of third molar-related morbidity should be included in dental research efforts. The authors suggest that novel preventive methodologies be developed to alleviate the problems third molars pose. One potential methodology suggested is intentional therapeutic agenesis of this tooth.

Clinical implications: Prevention of third molar development early in life, even before tooth bud initiation, could dramatically improve health care outcomes for millions of people.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Decision Making*
  • Humans
  • Molar, Third / physiology
  • Molar, Third / surgery*
  • Odontogenesis / physiology
  • Quality of Life
  • Risk Assessment
  • Tooth Diseases / etiology
  • Tooth Diseases / prevention & control
  • Tooth Extraction*
  • Treatment Outcome