Why are wisdom teeth removed?

Wisdom teeth, or third molars, are the last of the teeth to erupt. They emerge from the gum line of individuals as late as 17 to 25 years of age. Wisdom teeth may be recommended for removal by a dentist or oral surgeon. Healthy wisdom teeth do not require removal. Learn about the reasons for wisdom teeth removal.

Conventional Wisdom

In decades past, wisdom tooth removal was standard protocol for many late teens and young adults. Whether the tooth and surrounding gum tissue were healthy was a moot point as many considered wisdom teeth as potentially problematic over the long-term. Wisdom teeth can come in misaligned and impacted. When impacted they remain fully or partially under the gum line. Partially impacted teeth can create a breeding ground for bacteria and be prone to cavities as it is particularly difficult to maintain proper oral hygiene in the area. According to Raymond P. White Jr., an oral surgery professor at the University of North Carolina, “About two-thirds of the time, there’s going to be some problem.” Common problems include gum disease or cavities.

Current Considerations

Not all wisdom teeth require removal. Teeth that are healthy, fully erupted, aligned and biting correctly with opposing teeth, and that can be cleaned as part of routine oral hygiene practices may be left alone. Wisdom teeth do require special care and attention, with regularly-taken X-rays and exams as part of normally scheduled check-ups and cleanings.

Some wisdom teeth do require removal. Candidates for removal are wisdom teeth that are:

Partially erupted: A passageway is formed with a partial eruption that allows debris and bacteria to collect and get below the gum line. Oral infection and gum disease often result with the occurrence of a partially erupted wisdom tooth.
Misaligned: Teeth can erupt at all angles in the jar, even horizontally. Misaligned teeth can interfere with proper bite and as they are the last to emerge can impact surrounding alignment of neighboring teeth.

Furthermore, your dentist may strongly recommend wisdom teeth for removal when you experience:

  • Extensive tooth decay
  • Gum disease
  • Gum or tooth alterations to neighboring teeth
  • Tumors
  • Cyst formation (fluid-filled sacs)
  • Repeated infections in the soft tissue located behind the lower final tooth
  • Discomfort

Wisdom teeth removal in such situations should improve the condition of the remaining teeth and gum line with proper oral hygiene practices. Speak directly with your dentist or oral surgeon about your options.

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