Luisa Dillner, editor of BMJ (British Medical Journal) Best Treatments, said the guide was not designed to stop people from seeking treatment, but to look at the evidence rather than relying on established custom and practice.
She said: 'The big myth about medicine is that people know what works. In fact, they do things for which there is no evidence.
'There is a tendency for doctors to exaggerate the benefits of what they do because they want to help. The guide is about trying to tell the truth.'
Many dentists believe that wisdom tooth extraction, for which Americans spend $2 billion a year, should be done in teenagers to avoid cysts or infections that might develop around the teeth in the future. Moreover, they say, young people heal so much more quickly than older ones that it makes sense to extract the teeth in late adolescence.
But no one really knows how much long term benefit, if any, there is to routine extraction of wisdom teeth that have not yet caused problems. The most recent government recommendations on the subject are 22 years old, which means they don?t include more recent data from studies that question routine extraction.
One relatively recent study, for instance, published in 1990 in the International Journal of Technology Assessment in Health Care suggested that instead of routinely pulling healthy wisdom teeth, it might make more sense, in terms of both economic costs and disability, to extract only those teeth that are impacted (emerging crookedly or stuck partway out of the gums) and clearly causing problems.
A British analysis published last year in Health Technology Assessment reviewed 40 other studies and came to a similar conclusion - that routine removal of wisdom teeth to prevent future problems is often not justifiable. In the US, oral surgeons, whose income depends heavily on wisdom tooth extraction...