The LA Times recently published an article that questions the ubiquitous practice of extracting perfectly healthy wisdom teeth. As with any medical procedure, it is important to weigh the pros and cons before consenting to a wisdom tooth extraction.
Aptly noted in the article is the risk of nerve injury causing permanent numbness. Patients almost invariably sign consent forms addressing this known risk of the extraction procedure, but some nerve injuries fall outside the purview of these documents. Throughout his career representing patients, Steven Effres has consulted with (and cross-examined) the most highly credentialed oral surgeons and nerve repair surgeons in the country. The consensus used to be that permanent lip and chin numbness was a known risk of the procedure due to the anatomical positioning of the inferior alveolar nerve. However, certain precautions can now be taken to avoid this risk such as performing a partial extraction to minimize contact with the nerve. Importantly, permanent tongue numbness (as well as pain and taste loss) is usually preventable if the dentist follows the standard of care during the extraction. This is because all dentists and oral surgeons who extract lower wisdom teeth are trained to keep sharp instrumentation away from the anatomically known location of the lingual nerve, which communicates taste and sensation to the brain.
Although permanent injury to the lingual nerve following a lower wisdom tooth extraction is rare, it is a risk that can be avoided. Those considering the procedure should seek out a competent and experienced oral surgeon. Those suffering from permanent nerve injuries following the procedure should not feel silenced by the consent form they likely signed. Nobody can consent to negligent medical care, and based on the anatomy, permanent injury to the lingual nerve from a lower wisdom tooth extraction is usually the result of dental negligence.