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Are Wisdom Teeth Important?

Wisdom teeth and wisdom share no connection—unless it involves being wise enough to see your dentist for regular exams. Their name allegedly speaks to the life stage in which they appear—a time when children grow into young adults.

Our second molars arrive sometime during the middle teen years. By the time third molars arrive in the late teens to mid twenties. Their arrival will likely be predicted by a dentist who will look for them during routine visits. He or she may simply observe the mouth or take an X-ray to find their location, as well as keep an eye on them over time and determine whether removal is necessary.

Wisdom teeth may cause no problems, and they may cause big problems. Making space for standard adult teeth poses challenges many mouths, and adding a third set of molars can cause crowding.

Impacted wisdom teeth are those that stay completely or partially below the gum and or bone. In addition to lacking space and forcing other teeth to shift, they can grow at an angle, and go undetected until they cause problems such as infection, decay, and cysts. Even if the teeth fully erupt through the gum’s surface, they may still need to be removed. Their location often makes them difficult to reach and adequately clean—again making them more susceptible to infection, decay, and cysts problems.

According to the American Dental Association, wisdom teeth are generally removed when the following occur:

  • Infection
  • Pain
  • Cysts
  • Tumors
  • Damage to adjacent teeth
  • Gum disease
  • Tooth decay (if it is not possible or desirable to restore the tooth)

The American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons strongly suggests that “third molars be evaluated by an oral and maxillofacial surgeon by the time a patient is a young adult in order to assess the presence of third molars and disease status,” and to suggest management options that may include monitoring or removing them.

Dental professionals advise wisdom teeth extraction earlier in their development, before roots are deep and fully developed. Additionally, surgery risks and complications are often greater as we age.

Wisdom tooth extractions are often outpatient procedures performed by oral surgeons. The process may involve general or localized anesthesia, depending on your situation. Teeth are removed through the gums as a whole or in parts, depending on their placement and development.

Recovery involves caring for the wounds, generally obtaining nourishment through liquids and soft foods for 24 hours, and resting. Some swelling, bruising, and pain may be present. Dry sockets are the most common side effect. In rare occasions, nerve damage impacting sensations in the lower lip, chin, and tongue may occur. A follow-up visit will determine that you are healing as expected.

Some people never develop wisdom teeth, others have fewer than four, and a rare few may get more than four. Paying for wisdom teeth extraction out of pocket can cost upward of $1,000 depending on how many teeth are removed and what procedures the surgeon must do to pull them out. Dental insurance typically pays for a portion of the cost, depending on your plan.

Wisdom teeth that are not removed should be cared for like all other teeth. The best way to prevent them from creating more pain and expense is to schedule regular dental appointments for you and your family, brush, floss and practice good oral habits.

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