The normal adult mouth boasts 32 permanent teeth. In most cases, all except the wisdom teeth have erupted by age thirteen. The third set of molars, or “wisdom teeth,” usually come in during a person’s late teen or early twenty years.
The purpose of the molars in general is to grind up food. In some circumstances, wisdom teeth can be an asset to your bite and aid in this process. This is the case if they are:
- Fully erupted
- Positioned correctly
- Biting properly against their opposing teeth, and
- Healthy and able to be effectively cleaned as part of your daily hygiene routine.
In most cases, however, these criteria are not met and removal of the wisdom teeth is necessary. Poorly positioned or impacted wisdom teeth can contribute to major dental health issues. Here are several reasons why your dentist or orthodontist may recommend wisdom tooth removal.
- Damage to Oral Tissues: Because of the limited space in the back of your mouth where wisdom teeth reside, they don’t always come in straight. They may position themselves horizontally, angle away from your second molars, or grow directly into your other teeth. All of these situations result in potential damage to the adjacent teeth, your jawbone, or your nerves.
- Misalignment: Third molars pushing in a wrong direction can potentially cause your entire bite (or how your teeth fit together) to shift. Your teeth may become crooked and overlapped as your body attempts to make room for the new teeth in a space that isn’t big enough to accommodate them.
Misalignment of teeth, also called malocclusion, creates not only aesthetic problems, it may lead to discomfort when chewing or biting and speech issues. Crowded or overlapped teeth are also more difficult to keep clean, increasing your risk for tooth decay and gum disease.
Even more frustrating is that, in many instances, the wisdom teeth erupt after orthodontic intervention has already taken place. Failure to remove wisdom teeth when recommended can result in the “undoing” of what braces have already accomplished- causing unwanted changes to your beautiful, straight smile.
- Impaction: Teeth normally “break through” or erupt out of our gums and move into a functional position. When teeth don’t push through the gums and remain fully or partially covered by the soft tissues in the mouth or encased in the jawbone, this is called “impaction” and it is a fairly common in the case of wisdom teeth.
A partially erupted tooth creates a passageway for bacteria to access it. Because these openings are extremely difficult to clean and floss, the chance for tooth decay and infection is greatly magnified. These infections result in swelling, jaw stiffness, pain and general illness.
Your dentist can take x-rays to determine if you have wisdom teeth and how they are positioned. They may decide they are healthy and have a good alignment, choose to periodically evaluate to watch for changes, or recommend removal, either through their office or with an oral surgeon. Some dentists believe that removal of wisdom teeth is better at a younger age, before roots have fully formed and when a person is more likely to quickly recover from an oral surgery.
If you experience any of these symptoms in the area of your wisdom teeth, it is important to see your dentist and address the issue as soon as possible:
- Repeated infections of the soft tissues behind your last molars
- Damage to nearby teeth
- Cysts or tumors
- Gum Disease
- Tooth Decay
Wisdom teeth do not always require removal, but in many circumstances, they can have a negative impact on your oral health. Talk to your dentist and come up with a best course of action for your situation.