Wisdom teeth, also referred to as “third molars”, are the last teeth to appear, and this usually happens in young people from age 17 to 25. Today, orthodontic procedures related to tooth straightening results in a wider dental arch, and space for these final four molars to erupt is often insufficient.
Impaction May Result
An erupting wisdom tooth may become impacted if another tooth, bone, or an overlying gum hinders its eruption and development. This can be quite painful, and lead to infection as well. An impacted tooth may also fill with fluid, form a cyst that may cause permanent damage to surrounding nerves and bone, and the adjacent teeth.
Removing Third Molars
As a rule, impacted wisdom teeth are removed prior to any evident changes to the jaw and the surrounding jawbone becoming hardened.
Surgery is recommended in the following cases:
- Bone loss is evident, and the jaw has been weakened because of cysts or infections that surround the tooth
- An adjacent tooth has been damaged, and other teeth are shifting out of line because they are being crowded by third molars
Note that third molars may grow at an angle, and the crowding that results can cause teeth to become vulnerable to decay when food and bacteria become trapped between them. If a flap of tissue grows over wisdom teeth that are partially erupted, a pocket forms that traps bacteria, and the gums become swollen, red, and painful.
The complexity of the surgery for removing wisdom teeth depends on the development of the teeth, and if they are fully erupted, the procedure is similar to that of any other dental extraction. When a tooth is impacted, an incision may be made in the gum to remove a tooth that is imbedded in the jaw or covered by tissue. This procedure is less difficult when performed on teenagers and young adults because the roots are not yet fully developed, and the jawbone is less dense as well.
Although dental professionals concur that there are instances where wisdom teeth should be removed, extraction of third molars that are currently non-problematic is a controversial topic. Because of their location, however, they are more prone to decay because they are difficult to brush and floss, often resulting in problems that require their removal.
American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons
National Institutes of Health Clinical Center: Patient Education
“Preparing for Third Molar Removal”
University of Alabama at Birmingham Medicine
“Wisdom Teeth Extraction (Preventive)”