The Trouble With Wisdom Teeth

Anatomy is at the root of most problems with wisdom teeth. Either jaws are too small or teeth themselves are too big for the jaw. This adds up to a crowded mouth. Mother Nature probably programmed third molars to come in during the late teens or twenties, when the jaw would be big enough for another set of molars.

But today, wisdom teeth often don’t cooperate with Mother Nature’s plan. Because of the lack of space, molars can grow sideways, only partially emerge from the gums, or get trapped in the gums and jawbone. Dodson says partially impacted wisdom teeth are chronically contaminated with bacteria associated with infection, inflammation, tooth decay, and gum disease. Because they're so far back in the mouth, it's hard to keep them clean and get rid of the bacteria. Fully impacted wisdom teeth also can get infected and disturb the position of the other molars

Even when wisdom teeth come in fully they can still pose a problem for a healthy mouth.  The third molars are so far back in the mouth that it’s easy for food to get trapped, leading to more bad news: plaque, cavities, and gum disease, many people just can’t reach them to brush and floss well enough.

 Wisdom Teeth Surgery: A Wise Choice?

Rafetto says it’s important to get wisdom teeth examined during your teens. Dentists and oral surgeons are able to determine whether the teeth will be functional or likely to cause problems down the road. If problems are suspected, it is wise to remove [the tooth or teeth] before problems lead either to symptoms or damage that may not be repairable. If the decision is made to take them out, do not to wait. The surgery is usually less complicated in young people, because the roots are less established and, in general, healing is easier.

What are the potential risks of wisdom teeth surgery? As with any surgery, infection is possible, and there are risks associated with anesthesia. A slight chance of nerve injury, but if that occurs, it's usually a temporary problem. Immediately after the procedure, you’ll have pain and swelling, but your surgeon will suggest over-the-counter pain relievers and possibly prescribe a stronger painkiller, should you need one.

How to manage your wisdom teeth is ultimately your decision. Though it’s aggravating to have to consider expensive surgery for teeth the body shouldn’t be making anymore, it may be the right dental health option. Having a frank discussion with your dental health team and reviewing all your options is the first step in making the right choice.