When you're a young adult, the last four permanent teeth to appear in your mouth are the third molars, also known as wisdom teeth. But rather than giving us the wisdom we would like, they often become problematic – even for those of us who have the best oral health. When wisdom teeth problems arise, dentists often recommend removing them, and there are a few reasons this may be the smartest thing to do.
Impacted Wisdom Teeth
Wisdom teeth could be as useful as any of your other teeth, but because they are in the very back of the mouth, they often don't have enough room to grow in. It's not unusual for wisdom teeth to be positioned crooked or sideways in the jaw, keeping them from erupting into the mouth properly. This is referred to as an "impacted" tooth, and according to the American Academy of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (AAOMS), nine out of 10 patients have at least one.
Why Remove Them?
There are four unhealthy circumstances that might prompt your dentist to recommend removing your impacted wisdom teeth:
- Healthy teeth can be damaged as impacted wisdom teeth push against your neighboring second molars.
- Impacted wisdom teeth often become decayed or infected because they're hard to reach with your toothbrush.
- Bacteria around the impacted tooth can lead to gum disease and enter your bloodstream, adversely affecting your heart and other organs of your body.
- Fluid-filled cysts or tumors occasionally form around the bottom of an impacted wisdom tooth, causing damage to the jawbone, nerves in the area and nearby teeth.
The Best Time to Remove Them
Whenever your dentist detects problems or feels that your wisdom teeth have the potential to create complications in your mouth, he will most likely suggest that you have one or all of your wisdom teeth removed – even if they aren't causing you problems at the moment. Wisdom teeth are also easier to remove when you're younger than when you are older, according to the AAOMS, because the roots are not completely developed and the bone around the teeth isn't as dense. This means there is a slimmer chance of damaging surrounding nerves, teeth or bone during removal.
You may be lucky enough to have a "big mouth," which allows your wisdom teeth to fully erupt without interfering with your other teeth. But before you're in the clear to keep them, your dentist will want to make sure that they are functional and not affecting your bite. They should also be cavity-free, surrounded by healthy gum tissue and not causing you any pain.
However, to keep your wisdom teeth for the long haul, you'll need to focus on good oral care at home – flossing and toothbrushing regularly with fluoride toothpaste and getting your toothbrush back far enough to clean thoroughly. It can also help to use an antibacterial mouthwash like Colgate® Total Advanced Pro-Shield™, which can reduce lingering bacteria in your mouth.
To help you avoid wisdom teeth problems, your dentist will want to monitor these four teeth for any changes, by taking x-rays during regular checkup appointments. So, if you have reached "the age of wisdom" and are wondering "should they stay or should they go," you can rest assured there are options that can lead to a smart solution.