Removal of wisdom teeth is one of the most feared dental procedures. Everyone has heard a horror story about dry socket or infections that occurred after the removal of wisdom teeth. What many people don’t realize is that wisdom tooth removal can be simple and pain free if done early enough. Most dentists will monitor the growth and placement of these teeth during the teen years. They will recommend removal when the time is right based on the patient’s age and the development of the teeth. It is important to stay on track with regular dental checkups to make sure these teeth are removed at the optimal time.
Wisdom teeth usually erupt between the ages of 17 and 24. There are normally four teeth that come in, two on top and two on bottom. Some people never get all four teeth in a condition called hypodontia. Wisdom teeth are known as third molars because they are in the back of the mouth behind the second molars. Dentists usually recommend removal of these teeth early on to avoid major dental complications that can arise as time goes by. The older a patient is, the more difficult removal can be because the teeth are more firmly attached to the jaw. What should be a simple dental procedure gets much more complicated the longer it is neglected.
Removal of wisdom teeth is suggested due to the lack of space on the jaw for this extra tooth. Typically the jaw is not large enough for these extra teeth and as a result, the rest of the teeth will end up being very crowded. Many times the tooth will grow in sideways or at an angle due to the limited space and curvature of the jaw. When this happens, the tooth is considered to be impacted and complications can arise. Impacted wisdom teeth can damage the teeth next to them and require extra dental procedures to fix the adjacent teeth. Infections can also arise as food can get trapped between the crowded teeth or under the gums where it is harder to floss.
It is up to the patient to decide if he is ready to have his wisdom teeth removed, however, most dentists will encourage removal while it is still a simple dental procedure. Complications can arise if wisdom teeth are not removed at the suggested time. The older the patient, the higher the risk of nerve damage following the procedure. As a result, paresthesia, or numbness of the chin, lips, or tongue can occur. Paresthesia can last from several days to several months. This condition is rare in teenagers and as high as 10% in people older than 35. Cysts and tumors can also develop if given enough time. Not to mention that the healing process will be much quicker and easier on younger patients.
While wisdom tooth extraction can be a simple and pain free dental experience, there are risks of complications regardless of the patient’s age. Dry Socket is the most common complication. In dry socket, the blood clot has become dislodged from the hole where the tooth was. This condition is extremely painful and is not easily alleviated with pain medications. Patients are encouraged not to smoke or drink out of straws to avoid dry socket. Abscess, swelling, soreness and excessive bleeding are also other potential complications. The dentist can evaluate any problems experienced and either recommend additional dental treatments or prescribe antibiotics or painkillers.