FRIDAY, April 5, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- Giving dental anesthesia to young children may interrupt the development of their wisdom teeth, according to new research.
The study included 220 children who had been treated at the Tufts University School of Dental Medicine pediatric dental clinic between the ages of 2 and 6 years and who also had a dental X-ray taken three or more years after their first treatment at the clinic.
The researchers found that those who had received local dental anesthesia (numbing) in the lower jaw were over four times more likely to have missing lower wisdom tooth buds than those who had never received dental numbing.
"The incidence of missing wisdom teeth was significantly higher in the group that had received dental anesthesia; statistical evidence suggests that this did not happen by chance alone," study corresponding author Anthony Silvestri, a clinical professor in the department of prosthodontics and operative dentistry, said in a Tufts University School of Dental Medicine news release.
Normally, wisdom tooth buds begin to develop in the back four corners of the mouth between the ages of 2 and 6 and typically emerge in the late teens or early adulthood.
The problem with wisdom teeth is that -- in as many as 9 of 10 people -- they can become impacted, which means the tooth doesn't grow in properly. This can lead to pain and infection, according to the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons. Therefore, many dentists suggest surgical removal of wisdom teeth.
"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," Silvestri added.
"Dentists have been giving local anesthesia to children for nearly 100 years and may have been preventing wisdom teeth from forming without even knowing it," he concluded. "Our findings give hope that a procedure preventing [wisdom tooth] growth can be developed."
The study was published in the April issue of the Journal of the American Dental Association. While it showed a link between dental numbing and an interruption in wisdom tooth development, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
The American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons has more about wisdom teeth.