Wisdom teeth don’t make you any smarter, but they do appear when you’re old enough to make it seem like you are. For most people, wisdom teeth are the last four molars to appear in their mouth, and they often do more harm than good.
When these teeth begin to grow they can cause a wide variety of problems, from gum disease to major tooth loss. Many people simply opt for removing their wisdom teeth before they erupt, to eliminate any chance of serious future problems.
What About Impaction?
Most people have heard about impacted wisdom teeth, but they’re not really clear about what that means. The average human mouth holds 32 adult teeth, which pretty much fills the jaw. When the wisdom teeth begin to erupt, there isn’t always enough room for them to grow.
For some people, their wisdom teeth have developed but there isn’t any room for them to erupt. This is what’s known as impaction. There are different levels of impaction, from creating minor crowding to having a tooth completely stuck in a jawbone or other abnormal spot. Your dentist will use panoramic x-rays to determine if extraction is the best option for you.
The Bottom Line: Do I Really Need to Have Them Removed?
Extracting a set of molars is no laughing matter, so you’ve got to have a good reason for going through the procedure. Not everyone needs to have these molars removed, after all. But in many cases, getting rid of your wisdom teeth could be a smart decision for your future oral health. When there’s no room for your wisdom teeth to completely come through the gums, a wide variety of problems can occur, including:
Your wisdom teeth are at the very back of your mouth, making it very hard to properly brush and floss them. They’re also in a very dark place, where any leftover food can easily turn into plaque, then quickly become hard tartar that eats away at teeth and allows bacteria to thrive.This is why many people with wisdom teeth feel a lot of pain when chewing: they have an infection that has caused swollen gums and a sore mouth.
If your wisdom teeth are impacted, they aren’t affecting just the area right where they’re trying to appear. Every time a tooth pushes upward, trying to erupt, it puts pressure on all the other teeth around it. Having impacted wisdom teeth can eventually mean crowded teeth, cracked or broken molars, or eventual tooth loss.
Impacted wisdom teeth are also associated with other diseases not connected with oral bacteria. The longer you leave your wisdom teeth in place, the more likely it is for you to develop cysts that can grow and slowly eat away the jawbone. Some rare tumors have also been linked to leaving wisdom teeth in place past the teenage years.
It’s All About the Timing
The correct timing for removing your wisdom teeth is a matter for you and your dentist to agree on, but in general the goal is to remove them before they’ve developed a complete root system. This can happen as early as 12 or 13, or can be postponed until you’re in your early 20s. If you wait until you’re over 30, larger problems can happen.
One major reason for this is that the longer you wait, the more likely it is for an impacted tooth to attach itself to the jawbone. Every day you leave your wisdom teeth in is a bigger risk for a more complicated surgery. In most cases, it’s best to have them removed in your teenage years or shortly thereafter.
Having Your Wisdom Teeth Removed
You have two options when it comes to anesthesia during this procedure. Some people opt to stay awake, choosing to be numbed with massive amounts of pain medication. Most people, though, choose to undergo full anesthesia. With this option, you’ll fall asleep, then wake up when it’s all over. Either way, the procedure should take about an hour, although it could be longer if your teeth are severely impacted.
You’ll be required to stay for at least 30 minutes to recover from the anesthesia, and you’ll need someone to drive you home after the procedure. It may be amusing to watch on YouTube, but post-dental anesthesia is no time to drive.