In a perfect world, wisdom teeth would all grow in without problems, erupting through the gums like any other teeth. More often than not, however, wisdom teeth become impacted. That means that they get stuck, usually against other teeth, though they can get stuck by growing in at an odd angle. Scientists speculate that wisdom teeth used to be useful for chewing rough leaves – they are now considered vestigial, which means they serve no important function.
They do, however, cause a whole host of problems when they’re impacted. Impacted wisdom teeth that haven’t erupted through the gums at all don’t tend to cause many problems, though they can create certain symptoms (more on those later). The biggest problems are usually found in partially erupted wisdom teeth – teeth that have emerged partially from your gums.
With partially erupted teeth, you may be more prone to gum disease. Gums can’t properly heal over the partially erupted tooth, and that gives bacteria an access point. What’s more, it can be difficult to properly care for partially erupted teeth. They can be at strange angles, crowded against your other molars, and shorter than other teeth. That means they’re more prone to developing cavities. If those cavities can’t be restored, the tooth will need to be removed.
Though it’s somewhat rare, impacted wisdom teeth can cause damage to their neighboring molars. Infections near your impacted tooth can also lead to the development of cysts in your mouth. In either of these cases, you’ll want the wisdom tooth removed.
Some people with impacted wisdom teeth experience a degree of jaw pain and may also have difficulty opening their mouths. This is yet another sign the wisdom tooth should be removed. This can occur whether or not the tooth has erupted from the gums.
Wisdom teeth are vestigial, and removing them is generally safest for people under the age of 30 – the earlier, the safer. This has led some dentists to encourage their patients to have their wisdom teeth removed when they’re young, even if they’re asymptomatic. The philosophies on wisdom tooth removal can vary widely, and they depend heavily on the patient. Risk factors for each patient are different, completely unerupted wisdom teeth tend to cause fewer problems, and a person’s income can factor into their decisions.
All this to say, wisdom teeth can cause a lot of problems, so you might want to take them out preventively. Surgeries come with their own set of risks, so you might not want to take them out! The safest route is always to discuss any concerns you may have with your dentist. Here at Markham Dental Centre, we’ve been helping patients assess the risks and benefits of wisdom tooth removal for years. Come visit us and we’ll help guide your decision.