Wisdom teeth, or third molars, are the last teeth to develop and appear in your mouth. They come in between the ages of 17 and 25, a time of life that has been called the “Age of Wisdom.”
How serious is an impacted wisdom tooth?
If left in the mouth, impacted wisdom teeth may damage neighboring teeth and nerves, or become infected, possibly inviting systemic infections and disease as the bacteria travel through the bloodstream from your mouth to other organs of your body. In some cases a fluid-filled cyst may form around the base of the untreated wisdom tooth. As the cyst grows it may lead to more serious problems as it hollows out the jaw and damages surrounding nerves, teeth and other structures.
Must the Tooth Come Out if it Hasn’t Caused Any Problems Yet?
Many people believe that as long as they are not in pain, they do not have to worry about their wisdom teeth. However, pain free does not mean disease or problem free. In fact, wisdom teeth that come in normally may still be prone to disease, according to a study by the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons and the Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Foundation.
Bacteria that exist in the mouth may lead to gum disease and other problems before symptoms let you know that something is wrong. While brushing, flossing and dental care may help prevent such problems in other parts of your mouth, the location of your wisdom teeth make it very difficult to keep the area clean and bacteria free. Studies have shown that bacteria and gum disease in the wisdom teeth area frequently affects adjacent and other teeth in the back of your mouth.
Studies have also shown that the bacteria found in the third molar region leads to gum disease and in severe cases may travel through the bloodstream to affect the heart, kidneys and other organs. It may also be related to diabetes and similar systemic diseases.
Of concern to expectant mothers, the bacteria may also travel through the placenta and lead to preterm delivery and low birthweight babies.
When Should I Have My Wisdom Teeth Removed?
As you can see, it isn’t wise to wait until your wisdom teeth start to hurt you before you have them removed. The earlier you have your third molars taken out the better. The AAOMS study strongly recommends that third molars be taken out by the time the patient is a young adult.
It is easier to remove a young adult’s wisdom teeth because the root system is incomplete. As wisdom teeth grow, their roots lengthen and may become tangled with nerves in the lower jaw or sinus area. If this happens complications may be more likely to occur.
What Happens During Surgery?
Before surgery, your oral and maxillofacial surgeon will discuss the procedure with you and tell you what to expect. This is a good time to ask questions. Also talk to your surgeon about any concerns you have. Be sure to let your doctor know about any illness you have and medications you are taking.
There are several conditions that affect how easy it will be to remove a wisdom tooth. These conditions include how the tooth is positioned and the stage of root development. If the wisdom teeth are impacted the surgery might be more complicated.
Most of the time third molars can be removed with little or no pain. Usually they can be extracted at the oral and maxillofacial surgery office. Patients are given either local anesthesia, intravenous sedation or general anesthesia. Your surgeon will recommend the anesthetic option that is right for you.
What Happens During Surgery?
Following surgery, you may experience some swelling and mild discomfort, which are part of the normal healing process. Cold compresses may help decrease the swelling, and medication prescribed by your Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon can help manage the discomfort. You may be instructed to modify your diet following surgery and later progress to more normal foods.
What if I decide to keep my wisdom teeth?
If after discussing your situation with your family dentist or oral and maxillofacial surgeon, you decide to keep your wisdom teeth, be sure to take particular care in cleaning and flossing you molars. Your third molars must be professionally checked regularly and x-rays of your wisdom teeth should be taken every year to make sure that the health of your teeth and gum tissue does not change.