Most people will experience some type of dental issue or another throughout their life, but not everyone is affected by their wisdom teeth in the same way, even though those molars are more likely than other teeth to not follow a typical eruption process.
Wisdom teeth — which are the third set of molars in the back of your mouth — usually make their appearance in a person’s mouth between the ages of 17 to 25. They are the last permanent teeth to erupt, and there are not always four of them.
For some people, removal of the wisdom teeth is not necessary, as they may grow in normally with little to no negative impact to one’s oral health. Usually, the procedure is recommended by an oral surgeon for the following reasons:
- The wisdom teeth are impacted and/or coming in at the wrong angle
- Your mouth is already crowded
- You have a tendency toward cavities or gum disease
A significant percentage of people do not have space in their jaw for wisdom teeth to grow normally, which results in impaction, or the teeth emerging through the gum at an abnormal angle. This generally causes pain for a couple of reasons. First, the erupting wisdom tooth will often press into the adjacent second molar. Secondly, the tooth may stay partially erupted, creating a pocket in the gum that can collect food, potentially resulting in tooth decay or an infection that can spread into the neck and face.
When should you have wisdom teeth removed?
Many people get caught up in the perfect time for wisdom teeth removal, but unfortunately there is no definitive answer. In fact, age is only one determining factor pertaining to the appropriateness of the procedure. It should be taken into consideration along with other factors, such as convenience, symptoms and risks.
As advised by the American Dental Association, dentists and oral surgeons will commonly monitor the teeth and check for signs of potential problems later down the road, removing them if pain, infection, tumors, cysts, gum disease, damage or tooth decay seems likely or is already occurring. If it seems the teeth are not growing in the right direction or there is not enough space in the jaw, the general belief is that having the surgery done sooner rather than later is beneficial for a number of reasons. This translates to anywhere between the ages of 17 and 20, when the roots are only a fraction, or one-third, of the way formed. People in that age group are experiencing a particularly healthy time in their life, when bones are softer, or less dense, easier to manipulate and more resilient. Also, their bodies tend toward a quicker recovery time. Taken together, these factors contribute to the procedure generally being easier and less traumatic when undergone by a person in their late teens or early 20s.
Additionally, an October 2011 study by the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (AAOMS) found that approximately two-thirds of people who allow their wisdom teeth to come in — even if they are straight — eventually experience a variety of problems, from decay and infection to cysts and damage to adjacent molars.
Of course, the procedure can be completed too early, as well. You must wait for the teeth to be developed and have moved to their final position, which gives dentists and oral surgeons easier and cleaner access to the teeth for the extraction procedure.
While there is no golden rule as to the best time to have wisdom teeth removed, there is a strong belief that once you have determined they need to come out, waiting past the early 20s can cause damage to adjacent bones, teeth and nerves, and your recovery may not be as fast and predictable. To find out more about wisdom tooth extraction, or to schedule an appointment, contact one of the offices of Northwest Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery.