At the beginning of adulthood, most people have 32 teeth.  However, the average mouth only has room for 28 teeth.  Problems can arise when 32 teeth try to squeeze into a mouth with room for 28 teeth.  The extra four teeth are known as “wisdom teeth” or “third molars”.

QUESTION: Why Do People Have Wisdom Teeth Removed?

ANSWER: Wisdom teeth are a lot like waiting in line at an oversold movie or a concert; just when it is your turn to enter, you are informed the venue is at full capacity.  Since wisdom teeth are the last teeth to grow into the mouth, most often, they are left without enough room to erupt.  When wisdom teeth have adequate room, line up next to the other teeth, and have healthy gum tissue, wisdom teeth do not have to be removed.  However, this does not occur frequently.

When wisdom teeth are unable to properly erupt into the mouth, it is necessary to remove them.   Badly positioned wisdom teeth can cause a number of problems, some more serious than others.  Due a lack of room, they often get stuck in their attempt to erupt.  As a result, wisdom teeth can end up tilted, sideways, come in just part of the way or stuck completely in bone.

When there is not enough room for wisdom teeth to erupt, pressure on the other teeth occurs.  This can result in further crowding of teeth or resorption of the roots of the adjacent teeth.  With improperly positioned teeth, pockets can develop between the gums, bone, and teeth that allow bacteria to grow resulting in an infection, some serious enough to require hospitalization.   Even more concerning, a tumors or cysts can form around the impacted wisdom teeth.  The jaw bones can be destroyed, requiring major surgeries to repair the region. 

Removal as a teenager is usually recommended.  The roots are not fully grown, resulting in easier removal, and younger patients generally heal faster than older patients.  Also, the problems discussed above are unlikely to occur prior to the teenage years.  

QUESTION: What about me?  How will I know if mine need to be removed?

ANSWER: Your general dentist, orthodontist or family doctor may recognize the signs and symptoms discussed above, and they will refer you to see an oral surgeon.  Like all medical issues, early evaluation and treatment results in better patient outcomes.  An oral examination and x-rays allow Dr. Medel to evaluate the position of the wisdom teeth and predict if there may be future problems.