Blog Post


The wisdom behind wisdom teeth: part 1 

Sometimes taking them out is a wise choice

By Jason Kennedy, D.M.D.

Wisdom teeth got their name starting back in the 17th Century, because they generally appear much later in life than a person’s other teeth. Their appearance coincided with a person entering adulthood, and, thus, becoming more “wise.” While one can debate the old adage, “With age comes wisdom,” there is no doubt that sometimes it is best to remove wisdom teeth, before they erupt, cause damage to other teeth and compromise a person’s health. Here are some common questions about wisdom teeth and their removal:

Question: Do my wisdom teeth have to come out?

Answer: Not neccesarily, but there are many conditions that warrant extraction, even if you don’t feel any pain.

What you should know: Many people believe that as long as they are not in pain, they do not have to worry about their wisdom teeth. However, pain free does not mean disease or problem free. In fact, wisdom teeth that come in normally may still be prone to disease.

Question: What are some reasons to remove wisdom teeth?

Answer: Here are four instances that always necessitate extraction of wisdom teeth:

  • Infections and/or periodontal disease
  • Cavities that cannot be restored
  • Pathologies such as cysts and tumors
  • Damage to neighboring teeth

Periodontal disease (gum disease) and other infections, damage to neighboring teeth, and the development of cysts are all examples of the seriousness of impacted wisdom teeth.

Question: What happens if I don’t have my wisdom teeth removed when I should?

Answer: Leaving wisdom teeth that are not able to grow correctly and have, therefore, become impacted can have a negative effect on your body’s overall health, not just in your mouth.

What you should know: If left in the mouth, impacted wisdom teeth may damage neighboring teeth or become infected. Because the area of the mouth the wisdom teeth are located is difficult to clean, it is a site that invites bacteria, which can lead to gum disease. Furthermore, oral bacteria may travel from your mouth through the bloodstream, where it may lead to possible systemic infections and illnesses that affect the heart, kidneys and other organs.

“Wisdom teeth that come in normally may still be prone to disease.”

Question: At what age should I plan to have my wisdom teeth removed?

Answer: The sooner the better, once it has been determined that they should come out.

What you should know: Wisdom teeth are easier to remove when the patient is younger, since their roots are not completely formed, the surrounding bone is softer and there is less chance of damaging nearby nerves or other structures. Removal of wisdom teeth at a later age becomes more complicated, because the roots have fully developed (which may involve the nerve) and the jawbone is denser.

Wisdom teeth growth by age:

Look for The wisdom behind wisdom teeth: part 2 in next month’s issue, when we will discuss symptoms and the steps for getting proper treatment.

Jason Kennedy, DMD received his dental degree from the University of Louisville Dental School in Louisville, KY and completed his residency at the University of Tennessee Medical Center, Dept. of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, in Knoxville, TN. He is a Diplomat of the Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery and in private practice with Southeast Oral Surgery in Maryville and Knoxville, Tennessee.

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