Why Remove Wisdom Teeth?
At least for those who have grown up in the USA, getting one’s wisdom teeth removed is like a rite of passage to adult-hood. Most of us have gotten at least one wisdom tooth removed, and we all love to swap our stories about how the procedure went and whether or not we looked like a chipmunk during the recovery process.
However, many, including dentists, have begun to wonder whether or not wisdom teeth need to be removed on principle in all cases. As more and more studies and health and dental organizations have come to show, the answer is: no!
So, when do wisdom teeth need to be removed and why? And when can we feel safe just letting them be? That’s what we will discuss here.
What Are Wisdom Teeth
First, to remove some of the myths and mystery surrounding wisdom teeth, it helps to know what wisdom teeth actually are.
Wisdoms are essentially a third set of molars that grow in at the very back in both the upper and lower jaw. So, in many ways, they are no different from your other molars that are allowed to grow in and stay put.
Why All the Concern?
So, if wisdom teeth are such normal and common teeth, why are they extracted so much?
Well, their presence can be cause for concern for a number of reasons. First, they do not always fully erupt like other teeth do. This means that they either stay completely submerged beneath the gum line, which is called an impacted tooth, or they only partially erupt.
Both impacted and partially erupted wisdom teeth can potentially lead to gum irritation, jaw pain, swelling, and even cysts and tumors in the jawbone. Partially erupted teeth create an opening in the gum line which is very hard to keep clean and makes your gums susceptible to bad infections.
Even wisdom teeth that fully erupt and grow in can be harder to clean and create pockets where bacteria and food collect and cause infection. Additionally, wisdoms can tend to grow in at an angle, which threatens to knock them into other teeth potentially damaging and even realigning them.
Why and When to Remove Them
There are definitely numerous situations where removal of the wisdom teeth is a good idea. Such instances include:
- Gum irritation or infection: if impacted or partially erupted wisdom teeth are causing swelling, infection, and or gum/jaw pain
- Cysts or tumors: if a wisdom tooth causes a cyst or tumor to develop in the gums or jawbone
- Threatening neighboring teeth: if an x-ray reveals that the wisdom tooth is growing in at an angle and will potentially collide with a neighboring tooth, which could lead to infection, pushing the other teeth out of alignment, and/or eventual need to extract the other tooth
- Impacted or partially erupted: if a wisdom tooth stays impacted or only partially erupts, it runs a higher risk of causing infection and damage to nearby teeth
- Jaw pain: if impacted wisdoms develop cysts they are especially prone to causing jaw pain and damage to the jaw and nerves
- Bite problems: if a fully erupted wisdom tooth causes change to your bite, leads you to bite your cheek, results in food being trapped in the gums and develops swelling and sensitivity, or any other sort of related pain or abnormal jaw function
When to Leave Them Alone
However, not all wisdom teeth are problematic. Many health and dental organizations now agree that you should keep and simply monitor wisdom teeth that are:
- Otherwise healthy
- Positioned rightly (not at an angle)
- Fully erupted
- Working properly when you bite and chew
- Impacted but are causing no pain and show no signs of endangering nearby teeth or causing infection
Always talk with your dentist to get his or her opinion on what is best in your situation. Other factors, such as your age and what part of the process your teeth are currently in can all determine their advice.
If you are unsure whether or not your wisdom teeth need to be removed, don’t hesitate to give us a call! Our doctors in the Del Mar, CA Del Mar Center for Advanced Dentistry dentist office will be happy to consult with you and explain your best options.