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Lawsuit Draws Attention to Dangers of Wisdom Teeth Surgery By Teresa Cajot While wisdom tooth surgery is certainly not a procedure that anyone wants to undergo, the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons supports the practice of wisdom tooth extraction for young adults as a means of defense against future problems. In fact, the procedure is performed on an estimated five million Americans every year.

However, a recent medical malpractice lawsuit filed in Howard Country Circuit Court in Maryland, has drawn attention to the procedure and reignited the argument that the benefits of prophylactic extraction do not necessarily outweigh the risks. The civil suit stems from the death of 17-year old Jenny Olenick who died in March during wisdom tooth surgery.

surgical procedure, others insist that some dental procedures are unnecessarily performed. Wisdom tooth extraction has been tied to a number of complications including permanent nerve damage, jaw and tooth fractures, brain tissue infections, heavy bleeding, and hypoxia, leading some professionals to advise against the procedure unless absolutely necessary.

According to the suit, filed by Olenick’s parents, both the oral surgeon, Dr. Dominick Coletti, and the anesthesiologist, Dr. Krista Michelle Isaacs, were negligent and should have responded immediately to the teen’s drop in heart rate and blood oxygen level. According to an investigation by the Maryland’s chief medical examiner, Olenick’s death was caused by hypoxia-oxygen deprivation which occurred while she was anesthetized.

In the American Journal of Public Health, Jay Friedman, a retired dentist, stated that “third-molar surgery is a multibillion-dollar industry that generates significant income for the dental profession.” According to Friedman, the practice of extracting healthy wisdom teeth is “driven by misinformation and myths that have been exposed before but that continue to be promulgated by the profession.”

“Something should have been done at the first sign of the emergency happening. If they hadn’t waited so long, Jenny would still be here,” asserts Nichole Cunha, who is acquainted victim’s family. Cunha serves as the executive director of the Raven Maria Blanco Foundation, which was founded in honor of an eight year old who died in 2007 during a routine dental procedure. The foundation serves to address the need for increased medical emergency preparedness within dental offices. Unfortunately, similar cases do exist. Earlier this year Ben Ellis, 14, died after having his wisdom teeth pulled. The Georgia resident’s death is still under investigation. In 1996 Benjamin Shimshock was sedated for the purpose of filling cavities and ultimately died of respiratory failure brought on by a reaction to the sedation. Family members assert that the five-year-old would be alive today if his vital signs had been monitored and life-saving measures had been appropriately applied.

The American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, however, continues to advocate third molar extraction for the purpose of protecting neighboring teeth and nerves from damage and to limit the possibility of serious infection. According to the association, “an absence of symptoms does not equal the absence of disease.” It contends that a high number of young adults with healthy wisdom teeth will have problems down the line. It is believed that wisdom teeth evolved for the purpose of catching and consuming uncooked prey, making them unnecessary in modern society. Still, according to some studies, healthy wisdom teeth are not likely to cause problems if left in place. In fact, only about 12 percent of impactions actually result in infections. For this reason, a number of organizations suggest wisdom teeth removal only when cavities, cysts, tumors, or other problems arise. Both the American Public Health Association and the National Institutes of Health assert that the removal of asymptomatic teeth is unnecessary.

While many argue that these deaths, and others, are the result of complications that can potentially arise in any


Lawsuit Draws Attention to Dangers of Wisdom Teeth Surgery  

While wisdom tooth surgery is certainly not a procedure that anyone wants to undergo, the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Sur...

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