Study Finds Pulling Wisdom Teeth Can Improve Long-Term Taste Function

A new study has recently shown that patients who had extracted their wisdom teeth had improved tasting abilities after decades of having surgery.

A new study has recently shown that patients who had extracted their wisdom teeth had improved tasting abilities after decades of having surgery. The study of the new Penn Medicine findings has been published in the journal ‘Chemical Senses’.

The study results challenge the notion that removal of wisdom teeth that is known as third molars that only has the potential for negative effects on taste and represent one of the first studies to analyse the long-term effects of extraction on taste

A senior author Richard L. Doty, PhD, director of the Smell and Taste Center at the University of Pennsylvania said, “Prior studies have only pointed to adverse effects on taste after extraction and it has been generally believed that those effects dissipate over time.”

“This new study shows us that taste function can actually slightly improve between the time patients have surgery and up to 20 years later. It’s a surprising but fascinating finding that deserves further investigation to better understand why it’s enhanced and what it may mean clinically,” added Doty.

A third-year student in the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine, Doty and co-author Dane Kim, studied the data that was received from 1,255 patients who had undergone a chemosensory assessment at Penn’s Smell and Taste Center over the course of 20 years. Over 891 patients, among that group had received third molar extractions and 364 had not.

The extraction group outperformed the control group for each of the four tastes, and in all cases, women outperformed men. It was suggested by the study that for the people who received extractions first time in the recent past experience, on average, saw an improvement (typically a three to 10 percent improvement) in their ability to taste.

The “whole-mouth identification” test incorporates five different concentrations of sucrose, sodium chloride, citric acid, and caffeine. Each solution is sipped, swished in the mouth, and then spit out. Subjects then indicate whether the solution tastes sweet, salty, sour, or bitter.

“The study strongly suggests that extraction of the third molar has a positive long-term, albeit subtle, effect on the function of the lingual taste pathways of some people,” Kim said.

The authors said that there are two possibilities that could explain the improvement.

  • First, extraction damage to the nerves that innervate the taste buds on the front of the mouth can release inhibition on nerves that supply the taste buds at the rear of the mouth, increasing whole-mouth sensitivity.
  • Second, hypersensitivity after peripheral nerve injury from a surgery like an extraction has been well documented in other contexts.

Hence, there are evidence that are seen from animal studies that repetitive light touch, which might occur during chewing, gradually accentuates neural responses from irritated tissue that can lead to progressive long-term tactile hypersensitivity.

Whether this occurs for taste, however, is not known. “Further studies are needed to determine the mechanism or mechanisms behind the extraction-related improvement in taste function,” Doty said.

“The effects are subtle but may provide insight into how long-term improvement in neural function can result from altering the environment in which nerves propagate,” Doty concluded.

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