Wisdom teeth, or 3rd molars, are the teeth furthest back in the mouth. They typically begin to emerge in early adulthood, between the ages of 17 and 25. These teeth are an evolutionary holdover from a time when humans had larger jaws and needed more molars to efficiently grind plant matter. As human mouths became smaller and dental care improved, wisdom teeth became increasingly problematic. Wisdom tooth removal is a common dental practice to treat or prevent issues from occurring.
If your dentist has recommended that you have your wisdom teeth removed, you might be wondering if it’s really necessary. It is important to understand why your dentist is recommending your wisdom teeth be removed, so you can make the right decision for your oral health.
Reasons to Have Your Wisdom Teeth Removed
There are a number of reasons why your dentist might recommend you have your wisdom teeth removed. The most common reasons include:
Impacted Wisdom Teeth: When teeth cannot fully emerge from the gums, they are considered impacted. These fully formed teeth get stuck in the bone or gum tissue. While often initially painless, impacted teeth can cause pain over time, get infected, or possibly disturb the alignment of other teeth. Dentists will sometimes recommend that impacted teeth get removed before they start causing other problems.
Small Jaw: If your mouth is not very large, your dentist or orthodontist may recommend removing your wisdom teeth. People with smaller jaws are more likely to experience problems with their wisdom teeth, as there is not enough room for these teeth to emerge. It is possible that in younger patients, a dentist will recommend removing the second molars instead, leaving room for the wisdom teeth to grow in. This determination is often made when you visit an orthodontist for teeth alignment, as it is important to have enough room for the teeth to fit comfortably in the mouth.
Decay: Even if your wisdom teeth have enough room to come in properly, it may cause your mouth to be overcrowded. When teeth are pressed closely together, it can be very difficult to observe proper oral hygiene which increases the incidence of decay. Your dentist may recommend removing your wisdom teeth to create more space in the mouth, making dental care easier.
Jaw Damage: Cysts can form around the wisdom teeth, causing permanent damage to your jaw and its nerves. If there is evidence of cysts, dentists will typically remove the wisdom teeth to prevent damage and recurrence.
Infection: Teeth that have only partially emerged are at high risk for infection. If your wisdom teeth become inflamed and infected, it might be best to remove them. The dentist might want to treat your infection with antibiotics first, and remove them after the area is healthy to prevent another infection from occurring.
It is easier to remove wisdom teeth when you are younger, as the roots have not fully formed. Younger people also might have an easier recovery. Removing them early helps prevent any damage to other teeth. For these reasons, if your dentist or orthodontist believes your wisdom teeth will cause issues, they will recommend removing them as a preventative measure.
Why Keep Your Wisdom Teeth, Then?
Not everyone needs their wisdom teeth removed. In fact, not everyone has wisdom teeth, and in those who do, not everyone has all four. If you are not currently experiencing any pain or problems from your wisdom teeth, and they are not impacted, you may be able to keep them.
Because wisdom teeth typically begin to emerge in early adulthood, if they haven’t started causing problems by the time you’re 30, you probably won’t need them removed.
Wisdom teeth can cause pain, tooth decay, and other health issues. It is important to develop a trusting relationship with your dentist, where you can discuss the risks and benefits of wisdom tooth extraction. Having your wisdom teeth removed is an important part of dental care for some patients, but not for everyone.