Wisdom teeth are the third molars in the very back of the mouth that usually appear in our late teens or early twenties. Many dentists opt to remove wisdom teeth when they emerge to prevent future problems while other dentists preach the “wait and see” approach.
Wisdom Teeth Status: It’s Complicated
Allowing your wisdom teeth to grow in may seem like a smart thing to do, but for many people, wisdom teeth cause nothing but problems. Complications, such as growing in crooked (or even horizontally), not having enough room for them in the jawbone, and not being able to break through the gums (known as impaction), can cause pain, swelling, crowding, infections, decay, gum disease, and misalignment of other teeth. These problems are not uncommon and removing the wisdom teeth as soon as possible is the best bet.
However, not everyone has problematic wisdom teeth. Some people have plenty of room for their wisdom teeth to grow in, and they do so in perfect alignment with the other teeth. For these patients, removing the wisdom teeth seems unnecessary and maybe even risky, and many dentists choose to forego removal in favor of waiting for problems to arise, if they ever do.
Making a Wise Decision: To Remove or Not to Remove?
The decision of whether or not to extract the wisdom teeth is usually based on two questions:
Are Wisdom Teeth Already Causing Problems?
If the emerging wisdom teeth are already causing pain, damage to adjacent teeth, misalignments, or other symptoms of dysfunction, the dentist will likely choose to remove them to mitigate further issues.
Are Future Problems a Concern?
In many cases, wisdom teeth are removed as a precautionary measure to prevent potential future problems. The dentist may see that the erupting wisdom teeth are very likely to crowd the teeth around it, or that they’re coming in so crooked that pain and misalignment of the other teeth is all but guaranteed. Emerging wisdom teeth can also interfere with other planned dental treatments. In these cases, the dentist may choose to extract the wisdom teeth before they have a chance to cause more problems.
The Best Age to Remove Wisdom Teeth
Did you know that tooth extractions for children, teens, and young adults are usually much easier than extractions done on adults? To understand why, think of each tooth like a tiny tree. When the tree is young, the roots are shallow and more fragile. As the tree ages, the roots become stronger and dive deeper, anchoring the tooth solidly into the jawbone. This is why many dentists recommend removing the wisdom teeth as early as possible, usually between the ages of 15 and 25, before the roots have a chance to fully embed into the gums and jawbone.
Understanding the Risks and Side Effects
Removing wisdom teeth is a surgical procedure that should be taken very seriously. As with any tooth extraction, removing wisdom teeth comes with its own set of risks and potential side effects, including swelling, difficulty in opening the mouth, and pain just after surgery. These symptoms usually subside within a few days. Teeth extractions also come with the risk of developing a “dry socket”, which happens when the blood clot in the extraction site dislodges prematurely, exposing the underlying nerves and bone. Dry sockets are extremely painful and require immediate intervention. Rarer risks like nerve damage or damage to neighboring teeth can also happen, but are not likely.
Frequently Asked Questions About Wisdom Teeth
What are “wisdom” teeth and does my teen have them?
Wisdom teeth are the third molars, which are the last adult teeth to emerge in the very back of the mouth. They usually do so during the late teenage years or even the early twenties, although for some people they never come in at all. Many people’s wisdom teeth grow straight with no issues, but for others they can cause pain, crowding, and misalignments. Your teen’s dentist can examine their mouth and tell you if their wisdom teeth have erupted yet and if they may cause issues.
Is removing wisdom teeth required?
It depends. While some people may have wisdom teeth that emerge and never cause them problems, for many people they do cause pain, crowding, and misalignments. A consultation with a dentist or oral surgeon can help you decide if removing your wisdom teeth is the best option for you.
Get Expert Advice About Your Wisdom Teeth
Once your wisdom teeth emerge, regularly consult and discuss your concerns with your dentist, who may refer you to an oral surgeon. The dental professionals at Rio Grande Oral Surgery can guide you through the decision based on your specific dental health needs.