Published on March 3, 2017, Updated on November 22, 2017
Misinformation about wisdom teeth is prevalent in our society today. All you have to do is look on the internet and you will find countless articles on the importance of their removal. But, you’ll find just as many articles telling you not to remove them. Separating fact from fiction is important so that you can better decide what to do with your oral health. Each patient case is different. These tricky molars present themselves in different shapes, positions, and number depending on the mouth. To make the best decision possible, learn more about the purpose of wisdom teeth, when you should (or shouldn’t) be concerned about them, and what treatment options you have.
Some Common Wisdom Teeth Myths
- Unless you have pain, there is no reason to get them out.
- Everyone has wisdom teeth, and all four of them.
- If they already haven’t, wisdom teeth will not cause you problems by the time you are an adult.
- Wisdom teeth make you smarter (hence the name).
- 60-70% of people will need to have their wisdom teeth extracted to avoid serious dental problems.
- People can have 2, 3 or 4 wisdom teeth, or even none at all. An estimated 35% of people are born without wisdom teeth at all.
- Unfortunately, wisdom teeth don’t make you smarter. The name is linked to the age when wisdom teeth usually come in (ages 17-25 or the “Age of Wisdom”).
- Wisdom teeth can keep growing and developing until you are 30 years old or so.
Wisdom teeth (also known as “third molars”) don’t seem to serve a great purpose in this day and age, but it is the thought by many that our ancestors, centuries ago, may have needed an extra set or two of teeth. Some theories say that our ancestors received more wear on their teeth and had a tougher diet than we do, and thus needed extra teeth. Studies are still being done to conclude the purpose and origin of these teeth. The fact is, most people have at least one wisdom tooth and many will have to have them removed sometime during their life. According to the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (AAOMS), 9 out of 10 patients have at least one impacted tooth in their mouth. With an x-ray, a dentist or oral surgeon can tell you how many (if any) you have. Even though we don’t know the exact purpose of these teeth, we do know that your wisdom teeth should not be ignored.
When to Be Concerned About Them
Studies have shown that wisdom teeth are the only teeth that don’t form in the womb. They develop afterwards and differently according to each person and their anatomy. They are the last teeth in the mouth to erupt (meaning to break through the surface of the gums). When a tooth can’t erupt in the mouth — or erupt all the way — we call this an impacted tooth. Many teeth that are impacted simply do not have enough room in the mouth to come out all the way, or they are growing at awkward angles or sideways (which can happen). An impacted tooth is something to definitely see your oral surgeon about, as impaction can cause pain and can push into other teeth. If not taken care of, these teeth can overcome neighboring teeth, breaking them or even destroying the roots of surrounding teeth. Other times, the wisdom teeth may do nothing for many years. That is the real kicker: whether they are moving or not. That is what you have to be concerned about. Seeing a dentist and oral surgeon frequently can help you know whether they are moving, if you have an impacted tooth, and if the tooth needs to be removed.
Is an Impacted Tooth Something to Worry About?
An impacted tooth can push up against other teeth, causing movement and destruction of the neighboring tooth and root. This could cause the loss of the entire tooth, or at least tooth decay and bone loss. Plus, it will be painful and an infection can develop. Nobody wants that. Although surgeons must make a cut in the gum and reveal the jaw bone to extract a wisdom tooth, the procedure can take 20 minutes or less depending on the tooth. Many procedures only require local anesthetics as well, whereas others might require heavier sedation. Despite many horror stories out there, the extraction experience for many people is no big deal and recovery only takes a few days.
When Not to Be Concerned
If you have no tooth pain and your teeth are not impacted or shifting, it’s not necessary to have your wisdom teeth removed. These teeth can, however keep growing and shifting well until about age 30, so keep a good eye on them just to make sure all is well. Many doctors take out these teeth as a preventative measure against problems later in life. Teeth are removed easier at a younger age as children’s teeth are surrounded by softer bone and the roots have not completely developed. Over time, the bones in your mouth become harder and roots develop completely, thus making tooth removal harder and more painful. There is “wisdom” in getting your wisdom teeth and impacted teeth out sooner rather than later, if a problem is detected. If not, lucky you!
What Treatment Options You Have
At your annual checkups, your dentist will take an x-ray of your teeth to see the position and movement of your teeth over time. This data is used to gauge the need for removal. Infections around an erupted tooth as well as tooth decay, cysts, tooth crowding, gum disease and pain are also causes for removal. The AAOMS estimates that 85% of wisdom teeth will eventually need to be removed. If you choose not to have these teeth removed, make a plan with your dentist to monitor the movements of your teeth over the years. Definitely go to your annual or bi-annual checkups as well. Many people will experience trouble with their wisdom teeth and will need them extracted, whereas others may never have a problem. Each person is different, but it’s always a wise choice to keep tabs on your oral health, as your oral health can affect your overall health.