Your third molars, or wisdom teeth, grow in at the back of the mouth in early adulthood. In some cases, these teeth can grow in completely unimpeded and with no problems.
However, because most adult teeth are already in place, there is often no room for wisdom teeth so they do not develop or emerge normally. Some grow in sideways, only partially emerge or never break through the gum and bone. These teeth get stuck, or impacted, and could pose a risk to your oral health and well-being.
According to a recent study more than 10 million wisdom teeth are removed in the United States each year and approximately 60 percent of these surgeries aren’t necessary at the time. So why do dentists keep doing it?
Most people have four total wisdom teeth—two on the top and two on the bottom. However, there are patients who never develop any wisdom teeth or only some. If any one of these teeth becomes impacted, or stuck, you could suffer from some serious long-term problems and studies show there is about a 65 percent to 72 percent chance most Americans will have at least one impacted wisdom tooth.
Impacted third molars, commonly known as wisdom teeth, often cause pain, damage to neighboring teeth, crowding, and a myriad of other dental problems because of spacing. They are also difficult to clean and can leave teeth even more vulnerable to infection, decay, and abscess. This is why wisdom teeth removal is still a standard practice across the nation.
TYPES OF WISDOM TOOTH IMPACTIONS
There are a number of terms your dentist might use to reference the severity of your case. These include:
- Mesial (or mesio-angular). This is the most common impaction and means the tooth is tipped toward the front of your mouth.
- Vertical. This has fairly normal orientation, but the tooth is stuck below the gum line.
- Transverse (or horizontal). This occurs when a tooth is lying on its side.
- Distal (or disto-angular). The tooth is angled toward the back or rear of the mouth.
- Soft tissue. This means the crown of the wisdom tooth breaks through the surface of the bone, but not the gum tissue.
- Bony (or hard tissue). This means the tooth is still mostly stuck within the jawbone. Full-bony impaction means almost all the tooth is encased and partial-bony means some of it has broken through slightly.
CAUSE OF IMPACTED WISDOM TOOTH
Many healthcare professionals attribute these developmental problems to modern human diets. Historically, people who hunted, gathered and harvested their food suffered from excessive tooth wear and loss because of their coarse diets. These experts hypothesize the third molars were evolution’s answer to premature tooth loss. Back then, these teeth would often grow in when several other adult teeth had already gone missing. Today modern diets contain higher levels of soft foods. With that and the advent of modern dentistry, people today rarely have missing teeth at the age of 20. So now, there is just no need and no room for these third molars.
WHAT HAPPENS IF I WAIT ON WISDOM TOOTH REMOVAL?
Many professionals go head to head on this very issue. Some dentists say it is best to remove wisdom teeth around the age of 20 and some say to wait and only remove teeth once there is a problem, especially in adults above the age of 30. No arguments though, the best results in dentistry comes from preventative measures. If you wait too long for wisdom teeth removal your jawbone and teeth begin to set. As they get harder, the third molars are even more difficult to remove and the procedure becomes even more painful and complex.
If you wait, you also have a greater risk of postoperative side-effects like sinus issues, heavy bleeding, damaged tooth roots in healthy teeth, and limited jaw movement. These symptoms might last just a couple of days or for the rest of your life. So what should you do? Always consult with a specialist to see where your teeth are and if problems are likely to arise. Then you can work together to find the best treatment options for your unique needs.
WHAT ARE SYMPTOMS OF IMPACTED WISDOM TEETH?
Hopefully, the dentist catches problems with wisdom teeth early. As long as you keep up your regular six-month appointments and get X-rays your dental care provider can spot potential problems in time to prevent any issue. However, if a wisdom tooth is impacted and gets infected you might experience the following symptoms – these are usually signs for wisdom tooth removal:
- Red, tender, bleeding or swollen gums
- Jaw joint pain or aches
- Swelling around the jaw
- Halitosis (chronic bad breath)
- A sour taste in your mouth
- Difficulty opening and closing your mouth
- Occasional swollen lymph nodes in the neck
WHAT DOES THE DENTIST LOOK FOR?
We look for a number of factors during your wisdom teeth consult. First the X-rays will play a huge part. Ask your dentist to describe what he or she sees in the images and the expected pattern of growth. In addition to the development and location of your wisdom teeth, the dentist also considers your oral health, age, dental and medical history and other symptoms.
Contact us with any questions you may have. We are happy to help answer them!