Dr. Jay Friedman relishes his role as dental outcast. Like a pesky younger brother who enjoys watching his siblings squirm, the 86-year-old dentist and public health advocate has for decades been poking and prodding at the oral health community over his personal obsession: wisdom teeth.
Friedman has argued for more than 30 years that removing a young person’s healthy wisdom teeth — called “third molars” by professionals — is an unnecessary and irresponsible practice. While many dentists and oral surgeons have dismissed him as a traitor and a zealot, in 2007, people in the public health arena began to listen.
That’s when Friedman published an article in the American Journal of Public Health claiming at least two-thirds of the millions of wisdom teeth extracted each year at a cost of billions of dollars were removed for no good reason. In pointed terms, Friedman accused his colleagues of ignoring the lack of evidence supporting the need for such surgery in order to line their own pockets.
Friedman has compared the practice to prophylactic tonsillectomies, which were routinely performed on healthy children to prevent future throat problems in the first part of the 20th century, before the medical community denounced them as unnecessary.
Yes, reminds one of tonsillectomies, another now-discredited operation that removed perfectly good body parts. It also reminds one of circumcision, an operation performed by doctors who believe that they know what is better for the human body than evolution (or God). There are now reported operations in which women are having their breasts amputated just in case they might get breast cancer some day.