Third molars, commonly referred to as wisdom teeth, are usually the last four of 32 teeth to erupt (surface) in the mouth, generally making their appearance between the ages of 17 to 25. They are found at the back of the mouth (top and bottom), near the entrance to the throat. The term “wisdom” stems from the idea that the molars surface at a time typically associated with increased maturity or “wisdom”.
In most cases, inadequate space in the mouth does not allow the wisdom teeth to erupt properly and become fully functional.
When this happens, the tooth can become impacted (stuck) in an undesirable or potentially harmful position. If left untreated, impacted wisdom teeth can contribute to infection, damage to other teeth, and possibly cysts or tumors.
As with any dental procedure, your dentist will examine your mouth, teeth, and gums. Panoramic or digital X-rays will be taken to evaluate the position of the wisdom teeth and determine if a current problem exists, or if there is the likelihood of any potential future problems. The X-rays can also expose additional risk factors, such as deterioration or decay of nearby teeth. Early evaluation and treatment (typically in the mid-teen years) are recommended to identify potential problems and to improve the results for patients requiring wisdom teeth extractions. Only after a thorough examination can your dentist provide you with the best options for your particular case.
There are several types and degrees of impaction based on the actual depth of the teeth within the jaw:
Soft Tissue Impaction: The upper portion of the tooth (the crown) has penetrated through the bone, but the gingiva (gum) is covering part or all of the tooth’s crown and has not positioned correctly around the tooth. Because it 's hard to keep the area clean, food can become trapped below the gum and cause an infection and tooth decay, resulting in pain and swelling.
Partial Bony Impaction: The tooth has partially erupted, but a portion of the crown remains submerged below the gum and surrounding jawbone. Again, because it's hard to keep the area clean, the infection will commonly occur.
Complete Bony Impaction: Jawbone completely encases the tooth. Extraction will require more complex removal techniques.
While not all wisdom teeth require removal, wisdom teeth extractions are made because of an active problem such as pain, swelling, decay or infection, or as a preventative measure to avoid serious problems in the future. If impaction of one or more wisdom teeth is present and left untreated, some potentially harmful outcomes can occur, including:
Reasons to remove wisdom teeth
Damage to nearby teeth: Second molars (the teeth directly in front of the wisdom teeth) can be adversely affected by impacted wisdom teeth, resulting in tooth decay (cavities), periodontal disease (gum disease) and also possible bone loss.
Disease: Although uncommon, cysts and tumors can occur in the areas surrounding impacted wisdom teeth.
Infection: Bacteria and food can become trapped under the gum tissue, resulting in an infection. The disease can cause considerable pain and danger.
Tooth Crowding: Impacted wisdom teeth can put pressure on other teeth and cause them to become misaligned (crowded or twisted).
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