Many of us feel the removal of wisdom teeth is a rite of passage into adulthood. Wisdom teeth are actually the third set of molars that develop in the most posterior portion of the upper and lower jaws. Because of this position, some people refer to them as the 3rd molars. No one knows why wisdom teeth develop, but what we do know is that they have the potential to cause a myriad of problems if not treated appropriately at the right stage of life.
The age at which oral maxillofacial surgeons recommend removal of wisdom teeth is based upon the level of their development and whether the patient is a male or female. Males usually have their wisdom teeth removed when they are between 15 and 20 years old. Females usually have their wisdom teeth removed earlier as the effects of increased estrogen, as well as reduced blood supply to the back of the jaws, can increase the risk of delayed healing and soreness. To help avoid this, females usually have their wisdom teeth removed between 14 to 18 years old.
Oral Maxillofacial surgeons recommend removal of asymptomatic impacted wisdom teeth because studies have shown that the majority of impacted wisdom teeth will develop the disease over time.
The following are a few complications that can occur if wisdom teeth are not removed at the appropriate time:
- Gum disease and infection are the common complications.
- Wisdom teeth can decay. This can also cause erosion, decay, and even loss of the adjacent teeth.
Impacted wisdom teeth can develop surrounding cysts and tumors.
- Nerve damage can occur. The wisdom teeth develop close to key nerves which provide feeling to the lower lip, chin, and tongue.
- The ability to taste can also be affected by severe wisdom teeth problems. If the wisdom teeth are left in too long, the roots will develop in close proximity to these nerves, increasing the risk of permanent nerve injury.
- These nerves also lose their capability of healing as the individual grows older. Also, delaying removal can cause disease leading to multiple surgeries and additional expense in an attempt to save adjacent teeth. Many times, despite these treatments, the disease progresses, causing loss of adjacent teeth.
Should All Wisdom Teeth Be Removed?
The answer is No. If the wisdom teeth erupt into the mouth and are easily maintained, then removal is not necessary. Also, if the patient is over 35 years of age and has impacted wisdom teeth that are disease-free, it is best to leave them in place. Many times in these individuals, the risks associated with removal outweigh the benefits. Unfortunately, even in these cases, the risk of development of the disease is always present. Therefore, we recommend a radiograph every few years so that any developing disease can be caught early and timely treatment can be rendered to prevent more extensive complications.
What To Expect From Surgery
Patients should expect about a three-day healing course following removal of their wisdom teeth. The first few days there is soreness, and the patient will want to relax, place ice over the facial area, and use any provided pain medication as prescribed. Usually, by the third day, the patient begins to feel better, but that is the day that they notice the swelling reaches its peak. By the fourth day, the patient is usually able to return to normal activity and diet.
What Are The Common Complications of Surgery?
The most common complication following the removal of wisdom teeth is a dry socket. This is simply delayed healing where the surrounding bone becomes exposed and inflamed. There are multiple tricks that oral maxillofacial surgeons use to help prevent a dry socket, but despite this, it still occurs in some individuals. It is easily treated by the placement of a medicated dressing for a period of a few days up to a week and a half.
Removal of wisdom teeth is usually covered by insurance plans as they understand the importance of this procedure when medically necessary in order to help prevent future problems.