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Summer is coming and for many teenagers, that means it’s time to visit the Oral Surgeon to get their wisdom teeth out. But many may wonder why this is necessary, especially when their wisdom teeth are not causing any symptoms.
Just because they are asymptomatic doesn’t mean they are not causing problems, or will cause problems in the future. The vast majority of people do not have enough room in their jaws for their wisdom teeth. This ultimately leads to the teeth becoming impacted in the bone or only partially erupted, which makes the teeth difficult to clean. Such partially erupted teeth frequently become decayed or develop soft tissue infections around them. These infections can spread into the surrounding soft tissue of the face and neck, and be severe enough to necessitate hospitalization and aggressive surgery.
Not only can the wisdom teeth themselves become decayed, the second molars often develop decay in areas that are difficult or impossible to treat by the dentist. This frequently leads to loss of the second molars.
Periodontal (gum and bone) disease is also a concern with retained wisdom teeth. Periodontal disease leads to the irreversible loss of bone surrounding the wisdom tooth as well as the adjacent second molar.
Additionally, pathology such as large cysts or tumors can develop around impacted or partially impacted wisdom teeth. These lesions are usually painless and grow relentlessly over time. Because they often go unnoticed, they can become very large and destructive. Large cysts and tumors may require aggressive treatment such as removal of adjacent teeth and resection (cutting away) of the surrounding jaw bone. Rebuilding the jaw becomes difficult and requires invasive bone grafting techniques.
The removal of wisdom teeth is not without risk, however. Among these risks are pain, swelling, bleeding, and the chance of infection. Additionally, there is potential to have altered sensation or numbness of the lip, chin, and/or tongue; although this is rare. Patients will also need time off of work and limit their activity during the healing period. Because of these potential risks, the Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeon will weigh the benefits of performing the surgery with the risks before deciding on treatment. At times, the Surgeon may recommend keeping the wisdom teeth if their removal will cause more harm than good.
One major factor the Surgeon considers is the age of the patient. It is
well known that younger patients heal faster and have significantly less
chance of complications after surgery. When one considers all the potential
problems that can arise from keeping impacted wisdom teeth, serious thought
should be given to having them removed before they cause problems. As
the old saying goes: “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of
If you still have your wisdom teeth, visit your Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon to see if removing them is the right thing for you.
MedicineNet Content-rich commercial site includes interactive groups, ask-the-doctor feature, medical dictionary, comprehensive drug information, medical news, disease-specific information, and links.
Medscape Searchable commercial collection of full-text articles from such useful sources as the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Oncolink Huge collection of cancer information and links based at the University of Pennsylvania. The best starting place found for cancer information.
Medical Matrix Physician maintained commercial database of annotated health links. Oriented toward medical professionals, but accessible to an educated lay person. A keyword search gets you to a subject index, from which you navigate to the links you want.
American Association of Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeons find information about oral and maxillofacial surgery including cancer, dental implants, sports safety, jaw surgery, and more.