The last set of teeth to develop, the wisdom teeth, typically appear between the ages of 17 and 25. Although their name sounds benign, wisdom teeth cause more dental issues than any other teeth. Every year, an average of 5 million Americans have one or more third molars extracted.
Since wisdom teeth must break through the gums, it’s natural to feel some discomfort as they grow in. In many cases, though, these molars don’t erupt properly. This can make flossing difficult by crowding nearby teeth or trapping food.
The location of wisdom teeth makes them difficult to clean thoroughly. They often create a breeding ground for bacteria that can cause gum disease. Oral bacteria could enter the bloodstream and cause systemic illnesses.
Why Are Wisdom Teeth Such a Problem?
The retromolar space – the space behind the third molar – isn’t big enough anymore for those extra teeth. Research also suggests that third molars have virtually lost their usefulness due to dietary changes throughout human history.
Face type and facial structure are major factors in the eruption of wisdom teeth. Face type has to do with the width of the mandible, which holds the lower teeth and forms the lower jawline. Studies suggest that ethnic differences play a large role in how third molars develop.
What Is Wisdom Tooth Impaction?
Wisdom teeth can be trapped, or impacted, under the gums or in the jaw. Nine out of 10 individuals deal with at least one impacted third molar. Impaction can cause damage to a wisdom tooth’s roots, nearby teeth, and the bone supporting the teeth.
Third molars are the most frequently impacted teeth seen by dentists. Retaining impacted wisdom teeth can lead to pain, infection, periodontal disease, cysts, and tumors. They can also cause root resorption, a process that gradually eats away at the roots of nearby second molars.
If wisdom teeth do not grow in properly, malocclusion (the misalignment of teeth) can result as well. Malocclusion can cause overbite, underbite or crossbite. An abnormal eruption can also lead to an imbalance in facial soft tissue.
Should My Teen’s Wisdom Teeth Be Removed?
The dental community continues to debate the best way to manage wisdom teeth. Some oral and maxillofacial surgeons argue that wisdom teeth are potentially problematic, so they favor preventive extractions. Other dental experts feel that only symptomatic third molars should be removed. Ask your dentist whether they feel extractions are warranted in your teen’s case.
It’s easier to remove wisdom teeth in younger patients. The surrounding bone is softer, the roots have not finished forming and the risk of damaging nearby nerves or other structures is smaller. The removal of impacted wisdom teeth is a common dental procedure. It can lessen the chance of ongoing pain and issues later in life.
Protect your teen’s smile and dental health
Teens should start getting evaluated for the progress of their third molars around 16 years unless they have symptoms earlier. Extraction isn’t always necessary, but early detection of problems may save you and your teen time, inconvenience, and further issues down the road.
Consult your children’s dentist to monitor your teen’s wisdom teeth and set a foundation for lifelong dental health.