Millions of wisdom teeth are extracted each year in the U.S., mostly in younger patients in their teens or early 20s. For many years, having your wisdom teeth extracted was the standard recommendation given by a majority of dental professionals, even when teeth weren’t actively causing any problems. But today, dentists are rethinking that approach. And that means lots of patients are wondering if wisdom tooth extraction makes sense — or if they can skip the extractions without increasing their risks for oral health problems later on.
At Houston Precise Dental Care, extraction decisions are made on a patient-by-patient basis, and they are based on a very thorough examination of your teeth, your jaw, your mouth size, and other factors so you can make an informed decision you can feel confident about. Still, there are some circumstances in which an extraction almost definitely makes sense.
When wisdom teeth should be extracted
The reason so many dental professionals recommended wisdom teeth removal in the past had a lot to do with prophylaxis — taking a step now to prevent complications in the future. A lot of the problems associated with wisdom teeth have to do with where they’re located and how they erupt, or emerge from the gums. Wisdom teeth are your third molars, and by the time they erupt, most people already have a mouth full of teeth. That means there’s usually not a lot of room left for your wisdom teeth. And that can cause problems with the way they emerge — specifically, it can cause them to get “stuck” or impacted under another tooth, or it can cause them to come in sideways or crooked or even only partially erupt. Even though you may not have problems at first, the position and location of the tooth can still cause problems in the future, especially if you have a small mouth.
When a wisdom tooth is impacted, stuck under a neighboring tooth, or completely hidden inside your jaw, it can cause a lot of pain — and it can also threaten the health and integrity of the neighboring tooth. Sometimes, an impacted wisdom tooth can become infected and develop a painful abscess. That infection can even spread to your jaw bone. If a wisdom tooth is impacted, it absolutely needs to be taken out to prevent all these problems.
If a wisdom tooth comes in sideways, it can also press on neighboring teeth. As the tooth continues to erupt, that pressure can weaken the roots of neighboring teeth, resulting in shifting that can alter your bite and cause chronic jaw pain and headaches, or it might even make those teeth more prone to falling out.
Decay and gum disease
Finally, when a wisdom tooth comes in at an angle or when it only partially emerges, it can be very difficult to keep clean. Remember: Your wisdom teeth are located way back at the “hinge” part of your jaw. That’s an area that’s really difficult to reach with a toothbrush and even harder to reach with floss. Angled or partially erupted teeth can serve as “footholds” for disease- and decay-causing bacteria, leaving you open to cavities, gum disease, and eventual tooth loss.
Certainly, pretty much any time a wisdom tooth is causing pain, extraction will be recommended. Pain doesn’t have to be associated with decay, infection, or impaction; sometimes, the location of the teeth can interfere with your normal bite or cause grinding and chronic jaw pain, even though the tooth and gums are healthy.
When extraction might not be necessary
Sometimes, wisdom teeth come in straight and cause no problems with biting or mouth closure. If teeth are properly positioned once they’re fully erupted — and if you’re willing to take the time and effort to keep the teeth and the surrounding gums clean — they may not need to be extracted. Dr. Eckford will be able to determine if your wisdom teeth are ideally positioned during an examination of your mouth.
When a wisdom tooth does need to be removed, it’s usually a good idea to have the extraction when you’re young, before the bone has completely ossified (hardened) and while roots are still flexible and growing. Typically, that means recovery is faster, and there may be less swelling after the extraction.
Find out if extraction makes sense for you
At Houston Precise Dental Care, we’re committed to helping every patient get the care they need to enjoy optimal oral health at every age. If you’ve been having tooth or jaw pain or you’re just wondering if you should have your wisdom teeth extracted, having an exam is the first step. Book your appointment online today.