With age comes wisdom – and wisdom teeth. The wisdom teeth are the third molars that are the last ones to come in the mouth.  Interestingly, they are called wisdom teeth because they usually come in the mouth between 17 and 21 years of age – when one is old enough to have gained some maturity and wisdom. 

But are the wisdom teeth really wise? Unfortunately, despite their name, wisdom teeth are notorious for causing a variety of dental problems. That is why most dentists nowadays recommend removing them before they cause any trouble – or damage the neighbouring teeth. 

So, why are the wisdom teeth so troublesome? And do all wisdom teeth need to be removed? This article explains everything you need to know about wisdom teeth problems and how to take care of them. 

Wisdom Teeth Problems

When healthy, the wisdom teeth help us in chewing and digesting food. However, if you feel pain and discomfort in the region, it may indicate an underlying problem with your wisdom teeth – and that is when you should consult your dentist as soon as possible. Some of the common wisdom teeth problems include:

  • Impacted Wisdom Teeth

A tooth is known to have become impacted when it cannot erupt completely in the oral cavity. This typically happens when a wisdom tooth only partially breaks through the gums due to lack of space in the jaws. The soft tissues surrounding the partially erupted tooth make cleaning difficult and become a site for food entrapment and bacterial growth – leading to frequent inflammation. This condition is known as pericoronitis and is characterized by swelling and pain around the impacted tooth. 

  • Crooked Wisdom Teeth 

Sometimes, due to the jaws’ lack of space, the wisdom teeth come in crooked or erupt at an irregular position or angulation. This not only creates problems in optimally cleaning the area but also creates difficulty in chewing. As a result, these teeth are at a higher risk of developing teeth cavities and gum problems and affecting the neighbouring teeth. 

  • Cysts

Sometimes, a cyst, a fluid-filled cavity covered by a membrane, forms around the roots of an impacted wisdom tooth. Wisdom teeth having cysts should be removed as they can damage the tooth roots, the nearby teeth, and even the jawbone that supports the teeth. Similarly, abscesses can form around impacted teeth that cause significant pain and discomfort. 

  • Sinus Problems 

Impacted wisdom teeth in the upper jaw can exert pressure on the maxillary sinus, causing pain and congestion – and may even lead to other complications. 

  • Tooth Misalignment 

Impacted wisdom teeth can lead to crowding of the neighbouring teeth. This not only creates an aesthetic concern but may also affect one’s ability to eat and speak – often requiring orthodontic treatment to realign the teeth in the form of braces or Invisalign aligners.

  • Jaw Joint Problems 

When there is insufficient space in the jaws to accommodate the erupting wisdom teeth, there is excessive pressure on the jaw joints. Such a situation can lead to headaches, difficulty in chewing or opening the mouth. If left untreated, it can also cause dislocation of the jaw joints or fracture of the jawbone. 

When Should Wisdom Teeth be Removed?

The American Dental Association recommends extracting one or more of your wisdom teeth if they cause the following problems:

  • Pericoronitis – when the soft tissues around the impacted wisdom teeth frequently get inflamed and cause pain and swelling, dentists recommend removing the affected tooth. 
  • Risk of Teeth Cavities – wisdom tooth removal becomes necessary when an impacted wisdom tooth is at a higher risk of causing cavities in the neighbouring teeth.
  • Tooth Crowding – your dentist may remove one or more of your wisdom teeth that are causing crowding – to create space for the proper alignment of the remaining teeth. 
  • Jaw Joint Problems – wisdom teeth should also be extracted when they cause sinus problems. 
  • Dental Cyst – a wisdom tooth having a cyst should be extracted to prevent damage to the adjacent teeth. 

How to Take Care of Wisdom Teeth?

When it comes to looking after your wisdom teeth, prevention is the key. Despite the long list of things that can go wrong with your wisdom teeth, the good news is that you can easily prevent wisdom tooth problems. Here’s how:

  • Oral Hygiene Maintenance – wisdom teeth are special – they require greater care than the rest of your teeth. Since they are at the back, they are usually difficult to clean. That is why you should be more careful when brushing or flossing in the region. Almost all of the problems relating to wisdom teeth can be avoided if you take good care of your teeth. 
  • Regular Dental Checkups – your dentist will perform professional cleaning of your teeth when you visit for a checkup appointment. In addition to a clinical examination, your dentist will look at the x-ray images of your teeth – to diagnose any underlying problems with the wisdom teeth and treated them accordingly. Regular teeth cleanings also help prevent issues related to wisdom teeth. 
  • Wisdom Tooth Removal – if your dentist feels that your wisdom teeth will cause you problems in the future, he or she may recommend getting them removed.  Wisdom tooth extraction is a painless procedure that usually is performed at the dental chairside under local anesthesia. 

Even if you have wisdom teeth that are not causing any issues, there is always a risk of developing problems later in life. Therefore, to avoid wisdom tooth pain, you should take special care of your wisdom teeth – through meticulous oral hygiene maintenance and regular dental checkups. 

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Dr. Mehmood Asghar is a dentist, an educationist and a researcher in dental biomaterials. Dr. Asghar is currently working as an Assistant Professor in Dental Biomaterials at the National University of Medical Sciences, Pakistan, in addition to pursuing a PhD in Dental Biomaterials. His research interests include silver-based medicaments for dental use, nanoparticles, fiber reinforced composites, dental polymers, and contemporary dental ceramics. Apart from his professional activities, Dr. Asghar loves reading, writing, and working out. Currently writing for Bond St Dental.

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