So what is the deal with these crazy wisdom teeth anyway? The saying goes that the “wisdom” or third molar teeth try to erupt into the mouth when the patient is developing the intellect at an accelerated pace. This usually occurs around age 18 or 19. However, not everything is rosy concerning wisdom teeth. There is usually not enough room in the mouth for these teeth, and retention can cause numerous problems that can be avoided. Third molar removal is usually non-complicated, and recovery non-eventful. Our ancestors had jaws that were larger than ours, and we do not need as many teeth to eat our modern diets. Therefore, our jaws have been “shrunk” over the years, and the third molars no longer have room to erupt into the mouth.
If these teeth are not removed, problems can result. They can cause gum disease or decay due to how difficult they are to clean. They may also cause cysts, which can destroy the bone surrounding the wisdom tooth. The pressure from an impacted third molar or wisdom tooth against the root of the second molar tooth in front of it can cause a cavity in the second molar root, which is difficult, if not impossible to repair. Crowding of other teeth can also result from the wisdom teeth pressing forward on the dental arches. If third molar teeth are removed, the rest of the teeth can remain healthier and more properly positioned.
The most ideal time to remove wisdom teeth is when the roots are two-thirds formed, which is between 16-19 years of age, depending on the individual. The bone around the teeth is still soft enough to facilitate removal with minimal trauma. As an individual grows older, the bone hardens, and the roots develop fully, making removal more difficult. This does not mean that wisdom teeth cannot be removed in older individuals, but removal can be a little more complicated if the tooth is not erupted.
If the time is right to consider removal, a panoramic x-ray is taken, which shows the position of the teeth with respect to the jaws. A sedative is given to help relax the patient prior to surgery. Local anesthetic is used to numb the teeth to be removed. Sometimes incisions are made to gain access to the teeth. Once the teeth are removed, sutures may be placed to close the extraction sites. Recovery usually occurs over 2 to 3 days.
Removal of impacted wisdom teeth is a great investment in the health of the mouth. Ask a dentist if you have questions about this or any other dental health matters, and keep smiling!