Contrary to popular enduring myth, wisdom teeth need not be removed if they’re healthy, grown in completely (what dental professionals call “fully erupted”), positioned correctly and biting properly with their opposite teeth and are able to be cleaned per a daily hygiene regimen. What often happens, however, is that wisdom teeth – representing the third molar package in the very back of your mouth – find themselves without room to grow properly, leading to the common problems we often see. In extreme cases, “erupting” wisdom teeth can jut out at various angles in the jaw, sometimes even horizontally.
At times, wisdom teeth only partially emerge through the gums, while other times they remain decisively hidden; we often refer to teeth that aren’t capable of emerging normally as “impacted” (trapped) within the jaw. Why are impacted wisdom teeth dangerous if left untreated? A passageway is created if the teeth emerge partially through the gums, and because this area is difficult to see (and clean), it instantly becomes susceptible to bacteria that cause oral infections and gum disease.
When Dentists Recommend Removing Wisdom Teeth
Some dental professionals recommend removing these teeth if they don’t fully emerge or if they begin growing adjacent to the nerve of the lower jaw. Many others believe it’s better to remove them before roots are fully formed, when a patient is younger and is a better candidate for a faster recovery from surgery. Indeed, this is why a significant amount of young adults opt to have them pulled prior to any issues caused by the teeth such as becoming firmly rooted in the jaw.
According to the American Dental Association, the removal of wisdom teeth may be deemed necessary if patients experience alterations in the area of those teeth, including:
• Repeated infection of the soft tissue behind the lower last tooth
• Cysts (fluid-filled sacs)
• Damage to adjoining, nearby teeth
• Gum disease
• Excessive tooth decay
Park Avenue Dental Fact: According to a particular study, 10 million wisdom teeth are removed each year from five million people.
When wisdom teeth are causing problems – or X-rays divulge they just might down the line – they need to come out. Here are some other good reasons that make a strong case for their removal…
• Jaw Damage – As we mentioned just above, cysts can form around new teeth, and if they aren’t treated they can actually hollow out your jaw and damage nerves.
• Sinus Issues – Problems with these teeth can lead to sinus pain, pressure and congestion.
• Inflamed Gums – In addition to the aforementioned gum disease, tissue around the area can swell and may become difficult to clean properly.
• Cavities – The bane of all patients in that dentist’s chair, cavities can form when swollen gums create pockets between the teeth that aid in the growth of bacteria.
• Alignment – Remember all the hard work that went into your braces, bridges, crowns or partial dentures? Impacted teeth can undo the effects of all of these applications.
Why You Should Never Ignore Symptoms of an Impacted Wisdom Tooth
In recent years, dentists and oral surgeons are more likely to want to remove wisdom teeth before they become a major, aggressive threat towards a patient’s oral health. Even still, it is possible to experience the myriad of symptoms that come along as warning signs suggesting such teeth may be impacted…and if this is the case, you should contact your dental professional immediately.
Beginning with pain at the back of the mouth, impaction symptoms normally involve this pain gradually increasing with the passage of time as the teeth continue to grow in sideways or otherwise misaligned. This, in turn, presses on nerves and bone while crowding surrounding teeth, ultimately leading to redness discoloration, tenderness and/or swelling around the area. And, as covered above, bacteria begins to enter through open tissue as a wisdom tooth begins erupting through the surface of the gums, yielding infection in most cases.
Now, when the jaw bone or neighboring teeth block these teeth from erupting, they become impacted…essentially trapped in place as their roots continue to elongate.
The math is real simple here: The longer the teeth are allowed to remain impacted, the more likely they are to cause oral and general health problems. In summary, symptoms of impacted wisdom teeth encompass severe pain in the back of the mouth, infection, foul breath, bad taste upon chewing food, redness and swelling. And, again, if left untreated, this condition can lead to cysts and, in rare cases, tumors.
What to Expect During and After Extraction
At the end of the day, the most common and effective means of treating impacted wisdom teeth is extraction (removal). In fact, many dental professionals and sociological theorists believe wisdom teeth to be “evolutionary relics,” helpful to our distant ancestors who consumed diets that consisted of primarily “rougher” foods – like sticks and reed plants – and for good reason: As teeth wore down or fell out during this “cave man” period, wisdom teeth grew in to provide necessary replacements.
Fast-forward to 2015: Even with all the advancements in oral hygiene and the human consumption of much softer diets (for the most part), these replacement teeth still grow in even though we don’t require them any longer. But when these teeth must be extracted, here’s what you can generally expect…
The process of extraction is normally executed at either a dentist’s office – if the job is manageable enough – or at an oral surgeon’s practice under local or general anesthesia. These options and any possible complications should be discussed before the extraction procedure, but keep in mind that if a wisdom tooth has already erupted through the surface of the gums, it can be removed as if it were any other “normal” tooth – in other words, relatively easily.
When it comes to impacted wisdom teeth, this is where things get a bit more complicated, though not, in any sense, impossible or beyond reach. Here, an incision is made by the surgeon or dentist through the surface of the gum above the tooth, followed by removing any bone that might be covering the teeth. The tooth itself is then extracted, and sometimes the dentist or surgeon will need to cut the tooth into several pieces to salvage as much bone as possible; this avoids unnecessarily cutting bone or putting nerves and delicate tissues at risk.
Recovery After Extraction
Post-extraction “recovery” normally equates to some soreness around the area for a bit of time, depending on the severity of the surgery that was involved. There may also be some bleeding in the area, which is commonly handled by placing cotton balls or gauze in the mouth to absorb it, but for the most part, some residual pain, soreness or perhaps mild swelling occurs after a wisdom tooth (or teeth) is extracted, making the procedure bearable for just about anyone.
Of course, abnormal symptoms can occur such as excessive bleeding, intolerable pain or necessary use of narcotic medications to ease the post-operative distress, and these should be brought up to a dental professional immediately upon experiencing them.