If only wisdom teeth could live up to the promise of their name. Far from promoting knowledge, the arrival of these third molars causes a lot of questions— particularly, should they stay or should they go?
Pre-emptive wisdom teeth removal has become a rite of passage for many adolescents, but can be controversial: Those who oppose early removal argue that the surgery is unnecessary, and, like all procedures, carries some risk. However, 80 to 90 percent of impacted wisdom teeth cause problems, ranging from overcrowding to pain. Therefore, most wisdom teeth should be removed.
Wisdom Teeth 101
Wisdom teeth are third molars that typically erupt (“grow in”) between the ages of 17 to 24. Why do we have wisdom teeth? The answer isn’t clear. Some scientists believe wisdom teeth were necessary because ancient man used to eat coarser diets which caused extensive wear and tear on the molars, so when the wisdom teeth appeared, there was room to accommodate them. Lack of dental hygiene meant that broken or lost teeth also cleared the way for these molars.
Today, a softer diet and better access to dental care means wisdom teeth don’t have as much “elbow room” as they once did. Studies suggest that there is a 75 % chance that at least one wisdom tooth will be impacted. A tooth is impacted when it fails to surface into a normal position and is partially or fully covered by gum tissue or bone. Impaction can cause wisdom tooth pain, severe toothache pain, discomfort, and damage to neighboring teeth.
So, why are they called wisdom teeth? Because the teeth surface later in life, when people are wiser. (At least, that’s the story.)
Wisdom Teeth Extractions
The decision of whether or not to preventatively remove wisdom teeth has been the center of extensive debate– and misinformation—for decades. While research and studies continue, following are the basic arguments for removal:
- If a wisdom tooth breaks the gum surface, it can create an opening for bacteria, which may lead to inflammation.
- Erupting wisdom teeth – particularly if they are coming in at an awkward angle – can create “plaque traps” that set the stage for extensive tooth decay and gum disease. For more information, view this informational video from the American Dental Association.
- As people age, they are at greater risk for developing dental problems, and this includes wisdom tooth pain.
Wisdom teeth should be removed if:
- They are causing extensive pain
- They are the source of an infection
- They are damaging neighboring teeth
- A cyst or tumor is present
- The tooth has extensive decay that is not possible to repair
- There is a risk of developing gum disease
The Bottom Line?
While every patient is unique, if the wisdom teeth are impacted, it is very likely that they will cause extensive trouble at some point in the patient’s life. Therefore, we believe most wisdom teeth should be removed.
Speak with your dentist about any questions or concerns you have about your wisdom teeth or any severe toothache pain. Remember: by establishing regular, routine dental check-ups and yearly X-rays, your dentist can keep a close eye on your wisdom teeth and discuss the best course of treatment for you.
Academy of General Dentistry. “Know Your Teeth: What Are Wisdom Teeth?”
Cohen, Ruben, DDS. “How to Know if Wisdom Teeth Really Need to be Removed.” The Huffington Post.
The American Dental Association. “Mouth Healthy: Wisdom Teeth”