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Headshot of me wearing red lipstick Kara Babcock

Wisdom tooth turmoil

Published .


Yesterday I had a consultation with an oral surgeon regarding the possible extraction of my wisdom teeth. Why possible? Well, I'm not sure if I need it--or if I want to do it.

My wisdom teeth have fully grown into my mouth and don't cause me any pain, unlike some people, so I count myself lucky in that regard. Nevertheless, both my dentist and my oral surgeon have recommended I get them removed. There are some compelling reasons to do this. Firstly, it's possible they'll crowd my jaw in painful ways in the future (I didn't really follow this part of the discussion, so I'm not sure if they are crowding my jaw right now or not). Secondly, if I ever need to get jaw surgery, my wisdom teeth will have to be removed anyway. Lastly, the teeth do make it harder for me to brush and floss, which can lead to oral hygiene complications--I already have a cavity in one wisdom tooth.

So with all of this compelling data, why am I ambivalent? To put it simply, I don't like the idea of surgery. I've never had surgery before, and I'd rather avoid it unless it's really necessary. The idea of removing parts of my body--even if they're vestigial teeth--seems weird to me. Plus, no matter how safe a surgery is, there can always be complications. If the choice is between having wisdom teeth that aren't causing problems and having surgery that could cause problems, which choice makes more sense? I can just as easily get my cavity filled and try to improve my oral hygiene habits. So the question might very well be: even if my wisdom teeth aren't causing me problems now, will they in the future?

I tried to ask intelligent questions of my oral surgeon, but he disarmed me with his bedside manner. The receptionist urged me to book my surgery while I was there, before the summer schedule filled up. Lot of car salespeople they are! And really ... even if I did ask my oral surgeon, can I trust that his opinion is unbiased? After all, he has a vested interest in getting me to go through the surgery so he can get money (and who can blame him--he has a family to support, and in this case the surgery is relatively harmless, so it's not like he's bootlegging organs). This is a problem I have with medicine in general: it is one of those things in life where only those initiated into its secrets can understand the complexities involved and make an informed decision. As a person who tries to make rational, informed decisions whenever possible, how can I choose when I don't have the information? Who do I trust when the only people with the information--medical professionals--may not be reliable sources of information? I can do research on the Internet, but ultimately I'll have to make some judgement calls.

To summarize, I'm not concerned about the surgery process itself--I'm uncomfortable with surgery from an ideological perspective, but if I do decide to go through with it, that's fine. I'm just not sure if I want to get rid of four teeth. I never thought that I could make such a big deal out of this decision--I figured I'd go in, get 'em out, and recover. I didn't expect to enter into such inner conflict as I am experiencing now. Funny how life does that, eh?