'Sleeping' dental patients at higher risk

Sunday 07 April 1996 23:02

People considering having their wisdom teeth removed should be aware of the dangers involved, dental researchers have warned.

A study carried out by the University of Wales Dental School, Cardiff, has shown that extraction under general anaesthetic - favoured by three out of four patients - carries a four-times greater risk of nerve damage than removal under local anaesthetic.

The removal of wisdom teeth is one of the most common surgical procedures in Britain's hospitals. But it can cause damage to nerves around the lower jaw, leaving about 10 per cent of patients with a numb lower lip or tongue which can persist for up to six months. In 1 in 200 cases, it lasts for life.

The study followed 367 patients undergoing wisdom-teeth extractions. It found that about 13 per cent had some nerve damage afterwards, and those choosing sleep were four times more likely to have nerve damage than those who remained awake, although the surgical difficulties were similar.

One of the researchers, Professor Jon Shepherd, said: "We do not yet know the reason behind this surprising finding and we are investigating further ... but the research shows it is in the patients' best interests to have [extractions] done while awake."

Professor Shepherd and his colleagues Chris Brann and Dr Mark Brickley presented their findings to British Society for Dental Research's annual conference in Bristol last week.

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