Wisdom teeth are the last to come in, and often the first teeth to go. Most of our jaws no longer have space for these ancient and now unneeded third set of molars. The majority of Americans will have one or more wisdom teeth removed, often proactively removed before age 25. If not removed, adults face increased risk of dental complications later in life.
Count Those Wisdom Teeth on a Dental X-ray
Wisdom teeth start to come in during the later teen years, and not everyone will get them. The presence and number of teeth has been linked to genetic heritage. Most of us will have four wisdom teeth, but it is possible to have fewer. There are also genius teeth, or supernumerary teeth that form behind the wisdom teeth. The best way to uncover the condition, position and number of wisdom teeth is through dental x-rays.
When to Remove Wisdom Teeth
* Early removal to prevent dental problems. For wisdom teeth to reach the surface of the gum and become functioning teeth there needs to be enough space in the mouth. If not, they become stuck or impacted. Impacted wisdom teeth can cause pain and swelling, and they can get infected. If the lack of space forces them to come up on an angle, they can push against neighboring molars causing pain and misalignment of those teeth. Severely impacted teeth can develop cysts or even tumors, which can be dangerous.
To prevent these future dental problems, dentists often recommend that young adults (18-25), have impacted wisdom teeth surgically removed. At that age, the roots of the wisdom teeth, and the nerves that connect to them, are not fully developed. This makes surgery is easier on the patient with fewer potential complications. In later years, your dentist will weigh the benefit of preventive removal against the risk of complications from surgery.
* Later removal when decayed or damaged. When wisdom teeth are not impacted they can become usable teeth. However, their location way in the back of the mouth makes them harder to reach when brushing, leaving them prone to decay, cavities, gum disease and cracking. If they only erupt partially, there can be a pocket in the gum surrounding them which can easily get infected.
Time to Recheck Removed Wisdom Teeth
For those of us who had wisdom teeth removed early, there might be a surprise when the dentist x-rays that area later in life. Teeth that were barely formed may have been missed on the x-rays. They could also have formed later, if for example, impacted teeth were removed during teen years. These teeth can start to act up at a later age. Often the first sign of them is unexplained pain in the jaw or an adjacent molar.
Be sure to discuss wisdom teeth with your dentist and know the options for you and your family. Whitmore Dental will work with you to create a customized plan for your overall dental health. Contact us to learn more.