One of the major signs that a young person's dental development is nearing completion is the eruption of the last four permanent teeth: the third molars, located rear-most on either side of both the upper and lower jaws. But the advent of these molars, also called wisdom teeth, isn't always a cause for celebration: They can give rise to serious dental problems.
Wisdom teeth often arrive on an already crowded jaw, making them subject to erupting out of position or becoming impacted, totally or partially submerged in the gums. This can cause harm not only to themselves, but also to other teeth: They can impinge on and damage the roots of their neighbors; impede brushing and flossing and increase the risk of disease; and skew the alignment of other teeth to create poor bites that affect dental health and function.
Wisdom teeth are considered so prone to these problems (an estimated 70% between ages 20 and 30 have at least one impacted molar) that it's been a common practice to remove them before they show signs of disease or poor bite development. As a result, third molar extractions are the most common surgical procedure performed by oral surgeons.
But the dental profession is now reevaluating this practice of early removal. On the whole, it's difficult to predict if the eruption of wisdom teeth in a particular person will actually lead to problems. It may be premature, then, to remove wisdom teeth before there's sufficient evidence of its necessity.
As a result, many dentists now follow a more nuanced approach to wisdom teeth management. An impacted wisdom tooth that's diseased or contributing to disease is an obvious candidate for removal. But if the eruption is proceeding without signs of impaction, disease or poor bite development, many providers recommend not removing them early. Instead, their development is allowed to continue, although monitored closely.
If signs of problems do begin to emerge, then removal may again be an option. Until then, a more long-term watchful approach toward wisdom teeth may be the best strategy for helping a young person achieve optimal dental health.
If you would like more information on managing wisdom teeth treatment, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Wisdom Teeth: Coming of Age May Come With a Dilemma.”