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Wisdom tooth surgery complications -- a silent epidemic

Wisdom tooth extractions are done as an outpatient surgery not only in North Carolina, but throughout the nation. However, no one expects the procedure to turn out the way it did for this family.

Earlier this year, while undergoing what is considered by many, a common dental procedure, a young Maryland teen died unexpectedly. Now, the family has filed a medical malpractice suit against the dental team responsible for the young girl's care during the surgery as well as what the parents believe is her subsequent death.

The young girl, age 17, died from complications during the procedure. The family of the girl believes that the oral surgeon and anesthiologist were negligent in failing to immediately respond to their patient's plummeting heart rate and blood oxygen level when it first became apparent she was in distress. The autopsy performed on the girl proved that she had died from hypoxia. The girl had been deprived of oxygen while she was anesthetized.

Unfortunately, this family's heartache is not unique. Just this month, a 14-year-old Georgia boy was found dead the day after he underwent surgery to remove his wisdom teeth. The exact cause of his death is still being investigated.

While there are potential risks with any surgery, most commonly linked with wisdom tooth extractions are nerve damage in varies areas of the face. Also, recorded surgical risks are fractures in the patient's jaw, as well as infections, bleeding and... hypoxia. All of these risks lead many dental professionals questioning if the surgery is medically/dentally necessary.

Research has shown that wisdom teeth are a residual molar believed to have been used by prehistoric humans to catch, kill and chew their "uncooked prey." The argument for the surgery is that wisdom teeth can crowd the other molars by becoming impacted thus leading to damaged nerves or even infections. However, studies done show that not even 12 percent of wisdom teeth that are impacted lead to such problems. In fact, wisdom tooth extractions are compared by some to be like prophylactic appendectomies (preventative appendix removal).

As with any medical or dental procedures, be informed and don't be afraid to ask questions from your provider. And if something does happen due to negligence, like the tragic death of these two young teens, don't be afraid to hold the professionals in charge of the care of your loved ones accountable.

Source: ABC News, "Parents Sue After Teen Dies During Wisdom Tooth Surgery," Katie Moisse, Dec. 15, 2011

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