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There are a lot beliefs surrounding the appearance of wisdom teeth, and we’ve heard of most of them since time immemorial. What are wisdom teeth anyway? At its most basic, they are the last set of teeth that appears in your mouth. They usually surfaces within the ages of 18-25, a time when people are expected to have reached mental, psychological, and physical maturity. Our older folks believed that the appearance of a wisdom tooth is a sign that we have been blessed by the spirit our ancestors, giving us knowledge about life in general, thus the name “wisdom tooth.”
Superstitions aside, wisdom teeth are really just the third molars that erupt in your gums. An average person will have three pairs of molars, but some can have four, five, or even nine! While dentists recommend removing extra molars, a person has the choice if he wants to remove his third molars or not.
But when should you remove them? More importantly, is it ok to keep them?
To Keep, or Not to Keep?
Dentists classify two types of wisdom teeth: symptomatic and asymptomatic. Symptomatic wisdom teeth are the ones you’d want to get rid of. These give you an uneasy or painful sensation while they are not fully erupted, if they even have the chance to surface fully. Most people experience having symptomatic third molars, and this could be the reason why dentists strongly recommend their removal. But if they are simply erupting like your other teeth, why does it hurt so much?
Third molars appear at the back side of your dental area, which gives very little space for additional set of teeth. Because of this, a wisdom tooth becomes partially erupted causing some positional changes in the existing teeth. Impacted molars affect the positioning of of your dental area as they grow in a different direction towards the adjacent teeth. Partially erupted molars may favor future infections since they are difficult to clean with an ordinary toothbrush.
As minor as it sounds, this kind of dental issue may lead to further infections since quality hygiene is reduced. Severe periodontal diseases aren’t far behind if you leave your wisdom tooth growing while in pain. It is important to note also, that the growth of the third molar becomes painful if there is an existing gum and teeth problem. If you are unaware of your dental health, you might want to consider a dental visit if you experience pain when your wisdom tooth shows up.
But what about an asymptomatic wisdom tooth?
An asymptomatic wisdom tooth hides its real effect in a long period of time and it’s almost too late when you realize the kind of damage that it can do. At first, it appears to be a normal, harmless tooth except that it wasn’t able to surface completely. But many of those who have an impacted wisdom tooth experience swollen and sensitive gums. Since this tooth pushes in the wrong direction, it will hurt the adjacent teeth in the long run.
Because of the unnecessary pressure, existing teeth may weaken causing them to have cavities and weaker dental structures.
Does this mean that removing wisdom teeth is your best bet?
Don’t decide too fast. Unlike other tooth uprooting procedures, removing a wisdom tooth is more complicated and should be well analyzed. Wisdom tooth removal can cause nerve damage and excessive bleeding during the procedure. A patient may also experience minor facial numbness but would disappear a few minutes after the procedure is completed.
In some very rare cases, a patient may suffer from a serious infection, swelling around the affected area, and inability for the mouth to open fully. Such conditions are usually accompanied by bad breath. However, the effect may depend on how extensive the procedure is. When the local anesthesia has expired, the patient may feel a bit of pain, but that doesn’t last long.
While there are many questions concerning whether or not you should remove your wisdom tooth, the best move you can make is to talk to your dentist. Your third molars have very little purpose in your mouth since you already have your first and second ones to keep up with the chewing process. Consider the effects of keeping or removing them and remember to follow the professional recommendations of your dentist.
I am Valerie M. Preston, DDS with more than 20 years of experience in the dental industry. I’m an expert in restorative and cosmetic dentistry and a proud member of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, the American Dental Association and the North Carolina Dental Society. I ownVPreston Dental in Raleigh, NC, a dental clinic known for its spa-like ambiance. For more details, you can check out my website, Facebook and Twitter pages.