Objectives. We investigated general dentists' reasons for recommending removal or retention of third molars and whether patients adhered to dentists' recommendations. Methods. In a 2-year prospective cohort study (2009-2011) in the Pacific Northwest, we followed 801 patients aged 16 to 22 years from 50 general dental practices. Generalized estimating equations logistic regressions related patient and dentist characteristics to dentists' recommendations to remove third molars and to patient adherence. Results. General dentists recommended removal of 1683 third molars from 469 (59%) participants, mainly to prevent future problems (79%) or because a third molar had an unfavorable orientation or was unlikely to erupt (57%). Dentists recommended retention and monitoring of 1244 third molars from 366 (46%) participants, because it was too early to decide (73%), eruption path was favorable (39%), or space for eruption was sufficient (26%). When dentists recommended removal, 55% of participants adhered to this recommendation during follow-up, and the main reason was availability of insurance (88%). Conclusions. General dentists frequently recommended removal of third molars for reasons not related to symptoms or pathology, but rather to prevent future problems.