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The development of wisdom teeth (especially the lower ones) among very young children may be arrested due to bouts with dental anesthesia. This was the finding of the Tufts University School of Dental Medicine after conducting a study by reviewing digital dental record histories of children between two and six years old. The group’s conclusion—recently published in the Journal of the American Dental Association—is considered a surprising development in the practice of dentistry.

According to Tuft clinical professor Anthony Silvestri, anesthesia injections have been used for years by every pediatric dentist in Denver and other cities in the US to eliminate the pain of dental procedures. “It is intriguing to think that something as routine as local anesthesia could stop wisdom teeth from developing. This is the first study in humans showing an association between a routinely- administered, minimally-invasive clinical procedure and arrested third molar growth,” he said. Silvestri added; “Dentists have been giving local anesthesia to children for nearly 100 years, and may have been preventing wisdom teeth from forming without knowing it.”

Unlike other types of pearly whites, wisdom teeth do not emerge until a person is a teenager or a young adult. Also called the third molar, the wisdom teeth have yet to pop out from “buds” within children’s gums. Below seven years of age, these buds are still developing in the back four corners of the mouth, according to Medical News Today. They are also more prone to trauma, being covered by soft tissue, and not bones.

When molars start to make their appearance sometime after birth, these back teeth become more prone to problematic dental conditions. In a report by the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, it was found that nine in 10 individuals will suffer from impacted teeth. Such a condition, as any pediatric dentist in Denver, Colorado would attest, could result in pain and halitosis or bad breath, and may only be remedied by surgery.

Fortunately, dental practices like Colorado’s Cody Dental Group have specialists adept in these surgical procedures. Like other dental centers that use anesthesia, utmost caution is practiced when the medical numbing substance is introduced to parts of the body as sensitive as the gums.

The report by Tufts University is not conclusive and still needs further study. Silvestri, however, believes the discovery will be helpful to dental practitioners in the long run. “We hope our findings stimulate research using larger sample sizes and longer periods of observation to confirm our findings and help better understand how wisdom teeth can be stopped from developing,” he explained.