Taste and other neurosensory defects have been reported postoperatively in a number of patients who have undergone mandibular third molar extraction (TME). Although the taste deficits are generally believed to resolve within a year, the long-term effects of TME remain unknown. We retrospectively examined the whole-mouth taste function of 891 individuals who had received TMEs, on average, more than 2 decades earlier, and 364 individuals who had not undergone TME. All had been extensively tested for chemosensory function at the University of Pennsylvania Smell and Taste Center over the course of the last 20 years. The whole-mouth identification test incorporated 2 presentations each of 5 different concentrations of sucrose, sodium chloride, citric acid, and caffeine. Analyses of covariance (age = covariate) found those with histories of TME to exhibit better overall test scores for all 4 taste qualities than nonoperated controls. Such scores were not associated with the time since the TME. In both groups, women outperformed men and function declined with age. The basis of this phenomenon, which requires confirmation from prospective studies, is unknown, but could reflect sensitization of CN VII nerve afferents or the partial release of the tonic inhibition that CN VII exerts on CN IX via central nervous system processes.

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