What are wisdom teeth?
Wisdom teeth are the upper
and lower third molars, located at the very back of the mouth. They are called
wisdom teeth because they usually come in when a person is between 17 and 21
years old-old enough to have gained some "wisdom."
What causes problems with wisdom teeth?
person's jaw is not big enough to accommodate the new molars when they begin to
emerge. The tooth may fail to break all the way through the gum and instead
become stuck in the jaw (impacted). An impacted wisdom tooth has
the potential to crowd other teeth or create painful, inflamed, and often
infected, flaps in the gum. Wisdom teeth that have emerged may develop decay
and gum disease, because they can be difficult to clean.
problems with wisdom teeth develop when people are between 15 and 25 years
old.1 Few people older than 30 develop problems that
require removal of their wisdom teeth.
Most dentists feel that
people between the ages of 16 and 19 should have their wisdom teeth
Most dentists recommend that you not wait until you are
30 or older to remove troublesome wisdom teeth, because the bones around the
teeth continue to grow and harden. Extraction is more difficult and healing is
slower for older adults.
What are the risks of having wisdom teeth removed?
If you have a wisdom tooth removed, you may experience:
- Pain and swelling in your gums and tooth
socket where the tooth was removed.
- Bleeding that won't stop
completely for about 24 hours.
- Difficulty with or pain from
opening your jaw (trismus).
- Damage to dental work, such as
bridges, or to
roots of a nearby tooth.
- A painful inflammation called
dry socket, which happens if the protective blood clot
is lost too soon.
- Numbness in your mouth and lips after the
local anesthetic wears off, due to injury or
inflammation of nerves in the jaw. Numbness will usually go away, but in rare
cases it may be permanent.2
- An opening
into the sinus cavity if a wisdom tooth is removed from the upper jaw.
The decision to have nonimpacted wisdom teeth removed has
to be weighed against the pain and swelling most people experience after
surgery, as well as the low risk of nerve damage.
General anesthetic often is used during wisdom tooth
extraction, and all surgeries that use general anesthetic have a small risk of
death or other complications.
What are the risks of not having wisdom teeth removed?
If wisdom teeth are not removed, the following problems may
- When there is not enough room in the mouth
for the wisdom teeth to come in, they may become impacted and never break
through the gums.
- Your wisdom teeth may break partway through your
gums, causing a flap of gum tissue to grow over them. Food can become trapped
under the flap and cause your gums to become red, swollen, and painful.1 These are signs that germs growing under the flap are causing
- One or more of your wisdom teeth may come in at an
awkward angle, with the top of the tooth facing forward, backward, or to either
- More serious problems can develop from impacted teeth, such
as infection and damage to other teeth and bone. A fluid sac may form around an
impacted tooth, and the sac may grow into a
cyst, which could cause permanent damage to the nearby
teeth, jaw, and bones.
- Your risk of developing cavities and gum
disease in the back of your mouth is higher if you keep your wisdom teeth,
because it is difficult to brush and floss that part of your mouth properly.
But if you visit your dentist once or twice a year, cavities and gum disease
can be detected and treated early.
- If you need
orthodontic treatment, allowing your wisdom teeth to
remain may affect the treatment.
If you need more information, see the topic
Wisdom Tooth Problems.