Wisdom teeth, those third molars at the very back of our mouths, are so named because they generally erupt during late adolescence and early adulthood. When properly positioned they can be a valuable asset to us. When the jaw is not large enough to accommodate these wisdom teeth, they can cause dental problems, such as infection, requiring wisdom tooth removal.
Wisdom teeth usually appear in young adults between the ages of 15 and 25. Some wisdom teeth will grow in normally; others are "impacted." An impacted wisdom tooth allows no room for the rest of your teeth to grow. Dentists use X-rays to evaluate whether your wisdom teeth have any chance of coming in properly and can advise you on the best time to have wisdom tooth removal.
When there is no room for wisdom teeth to come in properly or when the teeth haven't reached their permanent location by age 25, then they're considered to be impacted wisdom teeth. Dentists recommend removing the tooth early, before wisdom tooth and other dental complications can develop.
Partially visible wisdom teeth are susceptible to bacteria that can cause wisdom tooth infection. Cysts and tumors can grow on a trapped wisdom tooth, causing irritation and some pain as well as diseases of the gums. Another problem occurs when the second molar, the last tooth before the wisdom tooth, is damaged as the wisdom tooth grows in without enough room.
The younger the patient, the easier the healing will be, which is another reason not to wait before removing impacted wisdom teeth. This oral surgery will be performed in the office of either a dentist or an oral surgeon, under anesthesia, providing patients with maximum comfort while keeping the procedure efficient and cost-effective. Local anesthetic (such as Novocain) is always used, but you may opt for additional comfort with nitrous oxide ("laughing gas"), IV sedation (twilight sleep) or deep sedation (general anesthesia.)
An oral surgeon or your dentist can provide guidance whether you're a candidate for wisdom teeth removal (extraction). The bottom line is that wisdom teeth most often don't fit well in our mouths and they can cause other teeth to move or lead to gum disease or bone problems. Ask the dentist to make an evaluation and suggest the best course of action!
by Brian J. Gray, DDS, MAGD, FICO