Wisdom Teeth (or third molars) are sort of like tonsils. Both are removed as a preventive measure and the incidence of removal is so high, people have come to assume it as necessary. They have come to see wisdom tooth removal as part of growing up.
In many cases, wisdom teeth get “stuck” while erupting. When your teenager’s wisdom teeth cannot erupt into the mouth properly, they become impacted. Under these circumstances, wisdom teeth can lead to gum infections or decay in neighboring teeth. Other problems can arise. However, in some patients it makes sense to wait and observe these teeth when they are likely to erupt properly. Sometimes, in fact, patients receive a recommendation to extract properly erupted wisdom teeth. So when, then, is extraction the right course of action? Below, I hope to bring some clarity to the subject of wisdom tooth extraction.
Wisdom Teeth (Third Molar) Fast Facts:
- Why don’t we have room for our third molars anymore? The most popular theory suggests that our ancestors consumed a more acidic and abrasive diet that cause increased tooth wear. As teeth narrow from this wear, they migrate forward to maintain neighbor-neighbor contact throughout the dental arch. This process would have created more space at the back of the mouth to accommodate erupting wisdom teeth.
- When do third molars start to erupt? They typically produce pressure and start to emerge through the gums between 16 and 24 years of age. Sometimes, this process can be quite painful. Other times, teenagers and young adults don’t feel a thing.
- So should my teenager have their third molars assessed at 16 then? Typically, we assess wisdom teeth with a panoramic x-ray at 12-13 years of age. The reason is that it is better to extract wisdom teeth (when necessary) before they begin to erupt through the gums. This approach allows extraction before root development which, in turn, makes the procedure and healing much easier.
- What can happen if my teenager’s third molars become impacted? Impaction of third molars can result in hard to clean areas around the tooth/teeth. This can lead to cavities and gum infections. If the third molars stick against the back wall of the second molars, then decay or cavities can form on those surfaces. So, wisdom teeth can cause damage to other teeth in the mouth.
- When is it okay to wait for third molars to erupt? If a panoramic x-ray shows your teenagers wisdom teeth are small, vertical/upright, and their jaw is fairly long, there is a good chance they will have favorable eruption of their wisdom teeth. In these cases, observation is best. If a problem arises, you can complete treatment at that time.
- Should I remove my erupted third molars? Probably not. If your wisdom teeth are fully erupted, they are likely accessible for cleaning purposes. The likelihood that they cause a problem with adjacent teeth also goes way down. Unless your third molar has a large or deep cavity, is infected, or is actively causing a health problem there is unlikely to be an indication for removal. Keep in mind there are risks associated with extracting erupted teeth too. So, there is a cost-benefit discussion that always need to take place prior to tooth removal. We should not remove teeth simply because they’re third molars.
- How long does it take to heal following third molar extraction? Healing time depends on the size of the tooth and roots (if present). It also depends on the amount of surrounding tissue that needs alteration to facilitate removal. A good range is 2-7 days for healing. Your Family Dentist or Oral Surgeon will typically prescribe a post-operative antibiotic and pain medication to prevent infection and keep you comfortable.
Who provides Wisdom Tooth extraction in Kitchener?
You have 2 options! Some Family Dentists undertake special training to provide wisdom tooth extraction. Some Dentists prefer to refer. In these cases, you will see an Oral Surgeon for removal.
By Dr. Kyle Hornby, Kitchener Dentist
This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a dental condition or treatment.