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Third-Molar Extraction May Improve Taste Ability

We’ve long thought that removing wisdom teeth was important to maintaining oral health. But there may be additional benefits to the procedure.

Healthy teeth and wisdom tooth with mesial impaction . Medically accurate tooth 3D illustration
alex-mit / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Extraction of wisdom teeth, or third molars, has become a rite of passage in late adolescence or early adulthood. The thinking for years has been that these teeth, remnants of our ancient past, are no longer necessary as we are seldom required to chew raw meat. In fact, they are seen as a liability for oral health in that they can make dental hygiene more challenging. This is due to their interference in accessing the far reaches of the mouth, despite the array of dental health aids now available. 

In addition, many of us simply do not have the jaw space to accommodate wisdom teeth, and their delayed entry into the dental arch lineup often results in crowding, impaction, and misalignment for the rest of the teeth. Therefore, oral health professionals have long recommended extraction of these teeth.

Recently, however, questions have been raised about the necessity of the procedure, specifically in the case of third-molar mandibular extractions, which may result in temporary taste deficits. But new research out of the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) School of Dental Medicine in Philadelphia sheds new light on the topic. The study, in fact, shows that taste function can actually improve for up to 20 years after wisdom teeth removal.

Taste Ability Improves

Researchers Richard L. Doty, PhD, director of Penn’s Smell and Taste Center, and Dane Kim, a third-year dental student at Penn, evaluated taste function in 1,255 patients who had undergone chemosensory evaluation at the center over the past 20 years.1 In that group, 891 patients had had their wisdom teeth extracted and 364 had not.

The test involved whole-mouth identification, using five different concentrations of sucrose, sodium chloride, citric acid, and caffeine. During two presentations, participants sipped each concoction, swished it around in their mouths, spit it out, and reported whether they perceived the taste as sweet, salty, sour, or bitter.

Study results showed that the subjects who had undergone third-molar extractions had enhanced taste perception for all four stimuli—as much as a 3% to 10% improvement—compared to those who had not. It also revealed that women outperformed men in taste identification, and that taste sense appears to decline with age.

Kim says that the research strongly suggests third-molar extraction has a positive long-term effect on the lingual taste pathway function in some people.


While the reasons for this effect remain unclear, the researchers speculate that it could have something to do with extraction damage to the nerves that innervate the taste buds on the front of the mouth, releasing inhibition on nerves that supply the taste buds at the rear of the mouth, increasing whole-mouth sensitivity.

A second possibility is that the effect is due to hypersensitivity, which is known to occur after peripheral nerve injury from a surgery like an extraction. Some studies indicate that repetitive light touch, such as that involved in chewing, increasingly elicits neural responses from irritated tissue that can lead to progressive long-term tactile hypersensitivity. It’s unknown, however, if this occurs for taste.

Doty notes that further studies are needed, adding, “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.”


  1. Kim D, Doty RL. Positive long-term effects of third molar extraction on taste function. Available here.
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