Wisdom teeth – sometimes called third molars – are the last teeth to develop and appear in your mouth. They usually come in between the ages of 17 and 25, a time of life that has been called the “Age of Wisdom.”
Wisdom teeth do not always need to be removed. If wisdom teeth are fully erupted, functional, painless, cavity-free, disease-free, and have healthy gum tissue; they may not necessitate removal. However, they still require routine maintenance with annual check-ups and periodic x-rays to monitor them for any changes.
When a tooth doesn’t fully grow in to the mouth, it’s termed “impacted.” The most common reason that impacted teeth are unable to break through the gums is because there isn’t enough room in the jaw. 90% of people have at least one impacted wisdom tooth.
An impacted wisdom tooth can damage neighboring teeth or become infected. Because it’s in an area that’s hard to clean, it can also invite bacteria that lead to gum disease. Oral bacteria can also travel through your bloodstream and lead to infections and illnesses that affect your heart, kidneys and other organs. In some cases, a cyst or tumor can form around the base of the impacted tooth, which can lead to more serious problems as it hollows out the jaw and damages surrounding nerves, teeth and other parts of your mouth and face.
In general, wisdom teeth should be removed when:
- The lack of space causes damage to neighboring teeth
- They have cavities that can’t be restored
- Infections and/or periodontal (gum) disease are present
- Cysts, tumors or other pathologies are present
- Their eruption is causing crowding (often seen in front teeth)