Reporter shares lessons learned about questioning conventional wisdom

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health and the author of "Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America." She can be reached at

Photo" Parveen chopra via Fickr

Photo” Parveen chopra via Fickr

“The decision to remove wisdom teeth often seems like a routine part of young adulthood. But more people are starting to ask whether it’s always necessary,” Elise Oberliesen told readers of the Los Angeles Times in a recent story.

“Those who oppose automatically taking out those four teeth say “watchful waiting” is a better path because the teeth and surrounding gum tissue might remain normal, making costly surgery unnecessary,” she wrote.

In the article, Thomas B. Dodson, D.M.D., M.P.H., a professor of oral and maxillofacial surgery at the University of Washington stressed the potential risks of keeping wisdom teeth, including gum infections and the possible need for emergency surgery.

Meanwhile, others emphasized the advisability of holding onto healthy third molars.

“If the tooth is not diseased, leave it in,” advised Richard Niederman, chairman of the department of epidemiology and health promotion and director of the Center for Evidence-Based Dentistry at New York University.

Elise Oberliesen

Elise Oberliesen

In her reporting Oberliesen sought out numerous experts and combed through peer-reviewed research and insurance data. The resulting story provided an in-depth look at an important question young people and their parents routinely face.

In this Q&A, Oberliesen offers some insights into how she tackled this project. She also shares advice on navigating the twists and turns of a complex story. Read the Q&A.

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