What Can Happen if Wisdom Teeth Are Not Removed
Issues with wisdom teeth are commonplace and having them extracted sooner rather than later can prevent ongoing problems in the future.
Wisdom teeth are the last set of molars to emerge through your gums, usually in your late teens or early 20s – the age when we are supposed to start gaining wisdom.
For no clear reason, the number of wisdom teeth that erupt varies from one to four and in rare cases more than four. Some lucky individuals don’t get wisdom teeth at all.
In many cases, wisdom teeth do not emerge fully through the gum line or remain beneath it. This happens because people’s mouths have evolved to be smaller and there’s simply not enough room for this third set of molars in the corners of our mouths.
A partially erupted (impacted) wisdom tooth can lead to a bacterial infection called pericoronitis. Also known as operculitis, this condition causes inflammation of the gums and the dental follicle.
Pericoronitis typically starts as a minor inflammation but can become an acute condition, with symptoms intensifying to swelling, fever, and pain as the infection spreads. Pericoronitis occurs more often with wisdom teeth than other molars.
Signs of Wisdom Teeth Issues
Impacted wisdom teeth may be free of symptoms or cause:
- Tenderness of the gums.
- Swelling and redness of the gums.
- Jaw pain, not necessarily around the area of the wisdom teeth.
- Sensation of a bad taste.
- Swelling of the jaw.
- Cysts or tumors.
- Gum disease.
- Persistent bad breath (halitosis).
Dental professionals say the ideal time to remove wisdom teeth is while the patient is aged 18 to 24, before the roots are fully formed. Extracting the wisdom teeth of older people increases the difficulty of the surgical procedure, with potential problems such as nerve damage.
Problems That Wisdom Teeth Can Cause
Impacted wisdom teeth are more likely to develop cavities. Because they’re stuck in the gums, it’s harder to reach them with your toothbrush and floss.
A further problem is that microbes are likely to become trapped in the area around the wisdom teeth, particularly if a pocket has developed in the gums. Periodontal pockets are gaps between the gums and teeth that become too deep, providing a home for colonies of bacteria.
Troublesome wisdom teeth can also increase the risk of gum disease and put pressure on the adjacent second molars, leading to deterioration of the enamel.
If your wisdom teeth erupt after you’ve been wearing braces, they can negate that orthodontic treatment by causing other teeth to shift.
A wisdom tooth that remains buried in the gum can result in a cyst around the roots or crown that can damage soft tissue and bone. Dental cysts may remain undetected for months or even years as they gradually eat into the jaw bone. In some cases, people only realize they have a dental cyst when their jaw eventually breaks through weakening of the bone.
In other cases, wisdom teeth grow in at the wrong angle. A crooked wisdom tooth can cause permanent damage to adjacent teeth and result in a misaligned bite function.
Besides problems in your mouth and jaw, wisdom teeth issues can also affect your overall health, causing headaches as infection creeps into the brain – a potentially life-threatening condition. Infection caused by a wisdom tooth can also spread to other areas of your body, damaging vital organs like the lungs or heart.
Why Get Wisdom Teeth Extracted?
There are many sound reasons to have wisdom teeth removed. These include:
Overcrowding. When wisdom teeth cause overcrowding in your mouth, there’s no procedure that can make your teeth all fit together. The only option is to have the wisdom teeth extracted.
Pain. Sometimes wisdom teeth can cause problems such as headaches. Your dentist will be able to determine whether the cause of your pain is your wisdom teeth or something else.
Oral hygiene. Bothersome wisdom teeth can result in food particles becoming trapped between the gums and teeth.
Risk of a cyst. If a sac next to a wisdom tooth fills with fluid, it can damage roots and surrounding bone and soft tissue. If the cyst becomes severe, it can develop into a tumor requiring additional surgery to wisdom teeth extraction.
Protecting other teeth. When wisdom teeth emerge crooked, they can cause other teeth to shift and damage them.
Sinus issues. The roots of upper wisdom teeth can put pressure on the sinuses – the system of connected cavities in the skull. This can result in sinusitis, congestion, and headaches.
Avoiding complications. Wisdom teeth extraction becomes more complex once the roots are fully established. People still in their teens have less developed tooth roots, so removal of wisdom teeth then will result in fewer complications. Recovery time is also faster in younger patients.
You don’t need them! Our modern diet of softer foods than our ancestors had to chomp on – such as plant roots and uncooked food – has made wisdom teeth redundant. Scientists class them as vestigial organs that serve no purpose.
Convenience. Individuals who decide to keep their wisdom teeth will need constant monitoring by their dentist.
The Wisdom Teeth Removal Procedure
Dental surgeons extract wisdom teeth as either a preventive measure or to correct issues caused by how the teeth have erupted.
Wisdom teeth that have emerged completely can be extracted relatively easily by simply pulling them out with forceps. Misaligned or impacted wisdom teeth may entail removal of each tooth bit by bit, making an incision in the gum, and drilling out bone.
Depending on the level of difficulty of the procedure, wisdom teeth removal will involve local anesthetic (possibly with sedation) or a general anesthetic.
Recovery time after a wisdom tooth extraction varies from person to person. It also depends on the complexity of the procedure, the type of anesthesia, and how much harm the problem has caused to the rest of your mouth.
If you’re considering wisdom teeth extraction, look for a dental practice that specializes in the procedure.
If you wait longer than early adulthood to have wisdom teeth extracted, the complications and risks associated with the procedure – including nerve damage – are likely to increase. Recovery will also take longer.