Wisdom teeth removal: Wise or not?

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JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas — Some people have none, some people have more than four, but on a daily basis, patients are getting their wisdom teeth removed. Do you or your children have any? Are they predicted to be problematic in the future? These are questions patients should ask their dental providers to have an adequate understanding of their individual situation.

Frequently, patients are under the impression that either everyone needs to get them out, or they do not need to unless they are causing pain. In reality, there are several reasons you should or should not plan to get wisdom teeth extracted.

Wisdom teeth, also known as third molars, are like a box of chocolates: they come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and positions, all of which have an impact on the decision of whether or not to extract them. Some people have sufficient space in their mouth and are able to keep their teeth clean and healthy, so they may not need to have them removed.

As with any other tooth, it is very important to keep wisdom teeth clean, which for many patients is a difficult task. If they are completely erupted, poking through the gums but not completely out, or are in a position that makes it difficult to clean them adequately, the best thing is to have them removed before cavities, gum disease, or an infection develop. Another common finding involves wisdom teeth that are positioned in a wrong way and pressing against the tooth in front of them, creating damage.

On the other hand, some wisdom teeth are completely encased in bone and are not expected to move much. In those cases, if there is no disease around the wisdom teeth, there is no need to extract them, as there are important anatomical structures, like nerves, that could be affected.

When it comes to mouth pain, everyone gets concerned but it may or may not be something to cause alarm. Sometimes patients experience pain as the tooth starts to break through the gums. At this stage, teeth do not necessarily need to be removed; they may just need the time to fully grow through the gums and will be healthy teeth from that point forward. In other cases, however, the pain may be caused by something more severe such as a large cavity or infection. Waiting until this pain occurs is far from ideal, as with age the procedure and healing become more difficult for the patient.

At your next dental exam, ask your provider about your wisdom teeth and discuss the risks and benefits for your particular case. Also, with summer right around the corner, now is the perfect time to get your teenagers in with your local dentist or oral surgeon for an evaluation to see if they should have their wisdom teeth removed. Prevention is the key to avoid tooth pain and/or infection in the future.