Do Wisdom Teeth Really Need to Be Removed?
Should they stay or should they go?
Our team here at Ericson Dental is all about helping patients make informed decisions about their dental health. One of the most common questions we hear is, should wisdom teeth be removed?
And our answer? Maybe!
When weighing the pros and cons of removing wisdom teeth, remember this:
While there’s some discomfort with a wisdom tooth extraction, putting off needed treatment is much worse, leading to pain, major surgeries, and expensive procedures.
What are wisdom teeth?
Also known as third molars, wisdom teeth are the teeth found in the very back of your mouth (both top and bottom). These teeth are different than other teeth in your mouth for a few reasons:
- Most patients only have one set of these teeth in their lifetime
- They usually don’t start appearing until your late teens or early twenties (though they can appear much earlier!)
While traditionally you should have four wisdom teeth total, estimates show up to 35% of American’s don’t have wisdom teeth at all! You might also only have just a couple of wisdom teeth instead of all 4. Everyone’s different, and your mouth is no exception.
Why do we have wisdom teeth?
The need for wisdom teeth has slowly dissolved over thousands of years. Before the advent of cooking, these teeth were essential. Back then, our ancestors’ diet consisted of raw meat and plants, both highly fibrous and tough to chew. Wisdom teeth were used the same way we use our other molars today — to grind up food!
Additionally, back then, most people would lose several teeth by the time they were adults (due to lack of proper dental care), which necessitated these extra teeth!
As softer, cooked foods came into the picture, our powerful jaws no longer needed to work as hard and got smaller as a result. But even though our jaws shrank, we still kept all 32 teeth!
Today, most people don’t have enough space in their jaw to fit all 32 teeth. And since wisdom teeth are the last to show up, they’re the ones to get the boot.
Reasons wisdom teeth should be removed
By the time your wisdom teeth grow in, your other 28 teeth have already made themselves at home in your mouth, taking up space. So instead of growing like a normal tooth, what often happens is your wisdom teeth get trapped or impacted in your jaw. Not good!
What are “impacted” wisdom teeth?
Wisdom teeth that are impacted are blocked from breaking through the gums. A wisdom tooth can also be only partially impacted, meaning it has started to break through, but has become stuck.
Whether the tooth is fully or partially impacted, the tooth may grow:
- Toward the neighboring tooth
- Toward the back of your mouth
- At a right angle to the other teeth (almost like it is lying down with the jawbone)
- Grow straight up or down like other teeth but stay trapped within the jawbone
An impacted tooth is a problem tooth. But even if your wisdom teeth aren’t impacted and grow normally above the gumline, if there’s not enough room in your jaw, you’re going to have issues.
Common complications due to impacted or overcrowded wisdom teeth include:
- Damage to other teeth. Often a wisdom tooth will push against the neighboring molar, which increases the risk of infection and decay in that area.
- Cysts. The wisdom tooth sac within your jawbone can fill with fluid, forming a cyst. This cyst can damage your jawbone, teeth, and nerves. In some cases, it can even cause a benign tumor to develop.
- Decay. This is especially a risk for partially impacted wisdom teeth, since food and bacteria can easily get trapped between your gums and the tooth. Even fully erupted wisdom teeth can be trick to reach and clean properly, thus leading to decay.
- Gum disease. Because cleaning impacted, partially erupted, and sometimes even fully erupted wisdom teeth is so tricky, they can increase your risk of gum disease.
- Shifting teeth/overcrowding. As your impacted wisdom teeth push against neighboring teeth, this pressure can cause your teeth to move, causing overcrowded and crooked teeth.
When your wisdom teeth are causing you problems, you’ll know about it soon enough. Over time, you’ll start to notice a few symptoms:
- Red, swollen, or bleeding gums
- Bad taste in your mouth/bad breath
- Difficulty opening your mouth
- Pain when chewing and biting
It’s very important that you have your wisdom teeth evaluated by your dentist before it gets to this point. There’s absolutely no reason you should have to experience wisdom teeth pain. Your dentist can anticipate any issues and remove the teeth before they cause trouble.
Let’s recap. In general, wisdom teeth should be removed when they’re:
- Causing overcrowding in the jaw
When to keep your wisdom teeth
All this said, removing your wisdom teeth is not always necessary. Some people simply have enough room in their mouth for these big molars. This might be for a few reasons:
- Naturally large jaw
- You’ve had adult teeth removed in the past
- You were born with fewer adult teeth
If your dental x-rays show that your wisdom teeth will grow in normally, or if they’ve already erupted and are causing you no problems, your dentist may recommend keeping them for the long haul.
However, you’ll need to take some extra steps to ensure you clean these back teeth properly and avoid decay. To keep your wisdom teeth clean:
- Brush well along the gumline
- Floss below the gumline on either side of the tooth
- Use an antimicrobial mouth rinse as recommended by your dentist to target bacteria in that area
- Use an irrigation device such as water flossers to target inaccessible areas
What to expect from a wisdom tooth extraction
The details of your wisdom tooth extraction will depend on the state of your wisdom teeth. Impacted or partially erupted wisdom teeth typically require a more surgical approach, while extracting an erupted tooth is much more simple.
Either way, for most healthy teens and adults, this procedure is quick and has few complications. Thanks to anesthesia and sedation techniques, you’ll feel no pain during the extraction. And while you’ll go through a recovery period, many people are back to normal within 3 days or so.
When you’re dealing with pesky and problematic wisdom teeth, Ericson Dental offers both simple and surgical wisdom tooth extractions. Our approach to wisdom tooth extractions here at Ericson Dental is twofold:
- Provide high-quality results through high-tech equipment, modern techniques, and years of experience
- Ensure you’re comfortable and relaxed before, during, and after the entire procedure (we offer sedation dentistry options to help you feel completely comfortable and super-charge your oral surgery recovery!)
Take good care of your wisdom teeth at Ericson Dental
If you still have your wisdom teeth and are wondering whether or not they should be removed, we’d love to help you make the best decision for your health.
Schedule an appointment and let’s talk about the advantages of wisdom tooth removal, outline when you should keep the teeth, and review any concerns you might have.
Since graduating from the USC School of Dentistry with academic honors, Dr. Ericson has been dedicated to furthering his scope of practice and helping patients feel anxiety-free through every treatment. He has completed extensive training and continuing education, excelling at two residencies in implant surgery and multiple residencies in advanced bone grafting, gum grafting, oral surgery, and surgical orthodontics. Dr. Ericson is also a graduate of the advanced prosthodontics program at the prestigious Kois Center in Seattle, WA.