What Are Wisdom Teeth?

Wisdom teeth are the final set of molars that many people gain in their late teens or early twenties. These teeth can be an asset to the mouth when they are healthy and aligned properly, but more often they are removed.

Wisdom teeth generally pose a threat to the rest of the mouth because they are often misaligned, growing horizontally, or angled toward or away from the second molars. Also, they may become trapped completely within the soft tissue and/or the jawbone or only break through the gum partially. When this happens, they are often termed impacted.

Wisdom teeth, when healthy and properly aligned –can be a health asset to your mouth. Unfortunately, more often than not wisdom teeth are misaligned and cause more problems than they do good.

Misaligned wisdom teeth can crowd or damage other already existing teeth, as well as cause jawbone damage or nerve damage.

When Should Wisdom Teeth Be Removed?

It’s generally recommended that wisdom teeth are removed when:

  • The jaw isn't large enough to accommodate extra teeth that may be useful for chewing or crushing food.
  • The wisdom teeth only partially erupt and may cause severe discomfort. Partially erupted teeth are also more prone to tooth decay because of their awkward position.
  • Poor alignment of wisdom teeth crowds or damages surrounding teeth, the jawbone or surrounding nerves.
  • Cysts begin to form; they can destroy surrounding teeth, the jawbone, or nerves. If left untreated, a tumor may form.

If you are concerned you may have wisdom teeth, ask your dentist about the positioning of the teeth.

An x-ray will be performed to evaluate the presence and alignment of your wisdom teeth and your dentist will recommend you the best course of action for them. Your dentist may decide to have your wisdom teeth extracted even before problems arise. This is to avoid a more painful or complicated extraction a few years later.

Not everyone’s wisdom teeth break through but that doesn’t mean they can’t cause problems if left unremoved. Your dentist will most likely take periodic x-rays to keep an eye on your wisdom teeth, or they may recommend surgery or removal.

It is generally recommended that wisdom teeth are removed while you are young since the wisdom teeth roots are not yet fully developed and the bone is still soft. While it is possible to remove wisdom teeth in those who are older, the recovery process is longer.