Am I Too Old to Remove My Wisdom Teeth?

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on April 24, 2023
4 min read

Wisdom teeth are a third set of molars — the large, flat teeth at the back of the mouth — that usually emerge between the ages of 17 and 25.

Scientists believe that wisdom teeth were essential for our early ancestors’ diets. But as our jawlines’ shape and size evolved over time, our mouths became smaller. This left us with less room for these extra teeth to grow. 

That’s why today, wisdom teeth often cause physical discomfort and can potentially cause serious oral health problems. While most dentists favor removing them at an early age, not everyone experiences issues when they’re young. Instead, oral problems related to our wisdom teeth can sometimes crop up as we age.

Though there are some challenges for adults over 50, removing your wisdom teeth may help you take care of oral health problems and encourage great oral health in the long-term. Only your dentist can determine if you’ll benefit from a tooth extraction.

Not everyone needs to have their wisdom teeth removed. Your jaw is fully developed by the time you are in your early 20s. In general, if there’s enough space for wisdom teeth to fit comfortably, your dentist may leave them alone. Researchers say that there are no proven health benefits to pulling wisdom teeth that aren’t causing problems.

Wisdom teeth may cause issues later in life, however. Their location makes it difficult to properly brush and floss this area of your mouth, increasing the risk of tooth decay and gum infections. An impacted wisdom tooth — one that is partially or fully under your gums — is even more vulnerable to oral health problems.

As an adult, you may need to have these back molars removed if a tooth is becoming infected or impacted. Your doctor may also recommend wisdom tooth extraction if:

  • There’s damage to the surrounding teeth
  • Your teeth are shifting or overcrowding
  • Gum disease is present, increasing the risk of abscesses
  • A cyst forms that can damage the bone or roots

Wisdom tooth-related problems can cause more damage over time to areas such as nearby teeth, gums, jawbone, or nerves. Extraction often helps people avoid these issues as they age, but your dentist might recommend other treatment options before removing the tooth.

This is because oral surgery can be more challenging for adults over the age of 50. However, you’re not too old to benefit from the outcomes. 

Removing your wisdom teeth as an adult can lead to:

  • A more involved procedure, since bone density decreases with age compared to children
  • Longer time to heal
  • Greater risk of post-operative issues like bleeding, infection, or nerve injury

Adults can limit these complications by keeping a good oral care routine and visiting their dentist regularly. With frequent checkups, your dentist can catch emerging issues as early as possible. This attentiveness can also reduce surgical risks that increase with age or the need for extraction altogether.  

You should keep your dentist informed of any changes to your health as well, including new medical conditions and medications or supplements you may be taking. Having a complete picture of your health helps a dentist personalize your treatment and recovery plan. This helps ensure you know what to expect from a wisdom tooth extraction and streamline a smoother recovery. 

Oral health problems, including those caused by a wisdom tooth, often advance quickly without treatment. These symptoms don’t guarantee you’ll need your wisdom teeth pulled, but you should contact your dentist if you have:

  • Persistent pain and irritation around the back of your mouth
  • Jaw stiffness
  • Swollen or bleeding gums
  • Sinus issues and difficulty eating
  • Signs of oral infection, like jaw tenderness, redness, and bad breath

Your dentist will perform an oral exam to look for additional signs that indicate a wisdom tooth should be removed, such as:

Only your dentist can determine if it’s necessary to remove your wisdom teeth. Ultimately, every person’s mouth is different. There may be alternative treatments that are more effective for you, especially if issues are treated early.

The best way to prevent problems from your wisdom teeth is to be proactive. Make sure that you get a cleaning and checkup every six months and inform your dentist of any changes you experience.