Do I Really Need to Have My Wisdom Teeth Taken Out?
Third molars, most commonly known as wisdom teeth, usually erupt at about age 17, however this can vary from person to person and sometimes they don’t erupt at all. Some people are even born without wisdom teeth, or sometimes have some of them but not all four.
Oftentimes the wisdom teeth become impacted which can lead to several different problems. Impaction means that the tooth cannot fully erupt into its proper spot in the jaw. Many, many generations ago, the human skull was larger than it is today and could accommodate all 32 teeth including the wisdom teeth. Through evolution, the human skull and jaw has become a lot smaller and usually doesn’t have enough room to fit all the teeth. There are some people though who do have enough room in their mouth to fit them all and can keep their wisdom teeth.
To get your wisdom teeth removed, you have to see an oral surgeon. The oral surgeon will first do a consultation where they will review your x-rays, possibly need a more advanced scan to be done, and ultimately decide if it is in your best interest to have them removed. In a select number of instances, the risks outweigh the benefits and the surgeon may decide to not remove them.
Some people may wonder, “If they aren’t bothering me or causing any problems right now, why do I have to have them extracted?” There are several different risks associated with leaving the wisdom teeth in place.
Even if they fully erupt into place, wisdom teeth are so far back in the mouth that most people have a very hard time keeping them clean, which often means they end up getting gum disease and/or cavities. Even if those problems are treated, it is hard for most patients to maintain them and will often continue to get more dental problems with time. Long term it is not always cost effective to keep treating teeth that don’t provide a significant portion of our chewing function.
Leaving wisdom teeth with gum disease (periodontal disease) in place can put your other teeth at risk. A deep pocket on a wisdom tooth can spread to the neighboring tooth, the second molar (also known as the 12-year molar), which is an important tooth for maintaining your chewing function. Gum disease is a chronic condition that never fully goes away, which makes prevention the easiest option.
Sometimes people can feel an achy pressure in their jaw from their wisdom teeth. In some cases, the achiness in their jaw can be so severe that it can limit their ability to fully open their mouth.
Sometimes, the third molars are soft tissue impacted which means that they are covered fully or partially by a flap of gum tissue, rather than been impacted in the jaw bone. Food debris, plaque, and bacteria can get stuck under the flap of tissue and cause an infection in the mouth that is painful.
There is a natural phenomenon called “mesial drift” where all our teeth want to move toward the midline of our mouths over time. This leads to tooth crowding. Some people feel that the crowding is worsened by the wisdom teeth coming in and pushing things forward.
You may be thinking, “Well, if all these things, could happen to me but aren’t right now, why not wait and see. If they become a problem later, then I will get them taken out later.” The jaw bone heals much better and faster when we are young, so that is why it’s advised to do it before a problem arises. Also, when we are younger, the wisdom teeth roots are not fully developed and the bone in the jaw is less dense, meaning the procedure is quicker and easier, and recovery time is shorter. If you wait and then there is an issue when you are much older, and then have them extracted, what can often happen is that the bone won’t fill in all the way where the tooth was extracted, leaving a void, which can leave the tooth next to it vulnerable. Usually when the tooth is extracted when we are younger, the body naturally fills in that space with new bone.
If you have any questions regarding your wisdom teeth, be sure to ask us at your next appointment!
Written by: Anna Hautzenrader, RDH