Prevalence of Visible Third Molars in the United States Population

An interesting article titled “Prevalence of Visible Third Molars in the United States Population: How Many Individuals Have Third Molars?” appears in the 2016 Journal of Oral and Maxilofacial Surgery 74, pp. 13-17, 2016, by Caitlin B. L. Magraw et al. In the article, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) is examined to look at the prevalence of wisdom teeth (third molars) in the U.S. population. Cross-sectional analyses of third molar data were conducted by the authors from the NHANES databases of 2001 through 2002, 2009 through 2010, and 2011 through 2012 to compare data for similarity of outcomes on wisdom teeth prevalence in the US population. The authors found the number of visible third molars in the NHANES databases of 2011 through 2012 decreased progressively from a mean of 1.48 in the 20 to 29 year old cohort to 0.81 in the 60 to 69 year old cohort.

The authors found that in each NHANES from 2001 through 2012, the number of third molars decreased with each successive age cohort. Even though participants in each successive age cohort differed, there were no reasons for the decrease in numbers of third molars in older cohorts. It is likely that clinicians might reasonably expect that demographic differences would explain outcomes in the respective age cohorts. Those with higher income and education would more likely have wisdom teeth with no symptoms or clinically detected pathology removed for preventive reasons. The authors suggest the differences in third molar prevalence from the NHANES of 2011 through 2012 by demographic indicators are related to health disparities. Clinicians could suggest that individual motivation influenced by personal and cultural experience cannot be ignored.

Men appeared to retain more wisdom teeth than women across almost all age cohorts. The authors found that non-Caucasian participants in the NHANES of 2011 through 2012 retained more wisdom teeth than Caucasian participants until 70 to 79 years of age.

The authors conclude by saying

“In summary, the NHANES data on the visible presence of third molars provide interested individuals in formation on the US population not reported previously. These data can influence future public health policy, health programs and services, and clinical research planning”

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