The anatomy of third molars has been described as unpredictable. However restorative, prosthetic, and orthodontic considerations often require endodontic treatment of third molars in order for them to be retained as functional components of the dental arch. The purpose of this study was to investigate and characterize the anatomy of maxillary and mandibular third molars. One hundred fifty maxillary and 150 mandibular extracted third molars were vacuum-injected with dye, decalcified, and made transparent. The anatomy of the root canal system was then recorded. Seventeen percent of mandibular molars had one root (40% of which contained two canals), 77% had two roots, 5% had three roots, and 1% had four roots. Teeth with two roots exhibited highly variable canal morphology, containing from one to six canals, including 2.2% that were "C-shaped." Fifteen percent of maxillary molars had one root, 32% had two roots, 45% had three roots, and 7% had four roots. Teeth with one root demonstrated the most unusual morphology, with the number of canals varying from one to six. An in vivo study of the canal morphology of treated third molars is suggested to provide the practitioner with an understanding of the clinical implications of third molar root anatomy.
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