Wisdom teeth, also known as “third molars,” are the molars that are the farthest back in your mouth. They typically erupt between the ages of 18 and 24, although in some cases, they never break through the gum tissue or only partially come in. Wisdom teeth that don’t fully erupt can lead to a number of issues, including bacterial infections, cysts, and damage to your gums and bone tissue.
Many people have their wisdom teeth extracted in their late teens and early 20s, but knowing why and when to have them removed can be confusing. Here at Airport Dental Care in Austin, TX, Brian LaBombard, DMD, is a trusted partner of wisdom teeth experts, and is happy to share some insights.
Although wisdom teeth had a function when humans had wider jaws and needed strong molars to chew coarse, rugged food, things have changed. In fact, for the most part, wisdom teeth provide no chewing function at all anymore.
Because of the tight squeeze in the back of your mouth, it can be a challenge to brush and floss your wisdom teeth properly, which can lead to tooth decay, gum disease, and a decline in your oral and overall health.
And while sometimes wisdom teeth erupt without issues, many times they become problematic when they grow in crooked or can’t break through the gums. Oftentimes, removing wisdom teeth before they become a future problem is the prudent decision.
Many people have heard stories from friends and family about the pain associated with impacted wisdom teeth. Being “impacted” means the teeth don’t have enough room to fully emerge from the gums, so they grow in at an angle or become trapped in the jawbone. Once they’re impacted, wisdom teeth are also more prone to bacterial infection.
When an impacted wisdom tooth presses against a neighboring tooth, it can cause serious damage to the other tooth’s structure, or it may even push several other teeth out of place or into crooked positions. Extraction often becomes a wise preventive measure to fend off tooth decay, infection, crowding, and damage to adjacent teeth or soft tissues.
Although it may seem counterintuitive to extract wisdom teeth before they become a problem, proper wisdom tooth management can be high maintenance. According to the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, wisdom teeth should be monitored closely for any changes through annual check-ups, professional cleanings, and periodic X-rays. The goal is to prevent future issues, such as infection, bleeding, swelling, pain, or tenderness in your gums.
Life is busy enough already, so instead of continual observation to make sure wisdom teeth aren’t causing a problem, going ahead with tooth extraction often wins over the watch-and-wait strategy. Removing them before they’re an issue can prevent damage to the roots of other teeth, and head off the formation of cysts and gum infections as well as systemic infections.
Typically it’s easier to have wisdom teeth extracted when their roots are less developed and the jawbone is less dense. Removal before age 25 is the best way to avoid complications.
If the teeth have successfully emerged from the gums, only local anesthesia is needed for them to be pulled. Impacted wisdom teeth require oral surgery, since an incision is needed to get to the tooth. In this case, patients are under sedation and local anesthesia.
If you’re having wisdom teeth-related symptoms or any other dental pain or discomfort, call us at 512-668-9912 to discuss your concerns and we can help you take the next steps. You can also schedule an appointment on our website any time.