Neglected Wisdom Teeth

Evidence Based
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Is It Necessary to Pull Wisdom Teeth?

Wisdom teeth (third molars) are the last teeth to grow in the back of the mouth of young adults. They erupt behind the 12-year-molars (second molars) about five to nine years later.

People typically get their wisdom teeth removed between 16 and 20 years of age because they don’t have enough space to grow in properly. While some people experience healthy wisdom teeth growth, others develop dental problems.

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Ten million wisdom teeth are extracted from approximately five million people in the United States every year. Conflicting research debates whether or not it’s necessary to have your wisdom teeth pulled. While some dentists and oral surgeons argue that pulling wisdom teeth is imperative, even if patients are not experiencing any pain or discomfort, other research challenges their arguments.

The push to pull wisdom teeth is rooted in science that warns of the health risks associated with wisdom teeth that can become infected, decayed, or impacted (meaning they’re trapped under the gums). Research also suggests that wisdom teeth can cause cysts and be the culprits behind damage to neighboring teeth and jaw pain.

wisdom teeth crowding

Other research argues that, while some wisdom tooth extractions are certainly needed, dentists and oral surgeons may unnecessarily push patients. These surgeries are expensive and painful — and result in more than 11 million patient days of “standard discomfort or disability” postoperatively. 

Like all surgeries, there are risks involved with removing wisdom teeth, including developing a dry socket and experiencing nerve damage. Over 11,000 people suffer permanent paresthesia (numbness of the lip, tongue, and cheek) because of severed nerves during wisdom teeth extractions.

Research suggests that at least two-thirds of wisdom tooth surgeries, the associated costs, and injuries are unnecessary. If you think you may have to have your wisdom teeth removed, do your research, talk to your dentist, and get a second opinion if you can.

Symptoms of Growing Wisdom Teeth

Here are some symptoms you may experience from the pressure of your new set of molars growing in:

  • Pain or discomfort in the surrounding soft tissue
  • Jaw pain or discomfort
  • Nearby toothaches
  • Teeth poking out through the gums
  • Overcrowding/shifting teeth if there’s not enough space in the back of your mouth

What Happens if You Don’t Remove Wisdom Teeth?

If you don’t remove your wisdom teeth, you might not experience any issues at all. Many people live long, healthy lives with all of these wisdom teeth and no complications.

Here are some possible complications that may arise for some people who choose to keep their wisdom teeth:

  • Gum Infection
  • Tooth decay
  • Cysts
  • Damage to nearby teeth
  • Jaw pain

If your teeth become impacted in the gums, you may have a higher risk of infections, pain, and discomfort.

Symptoms of Infected Wisdom Teeth

Some symptoms of infected wisdom teeth include:

  • Mouth pain or discomfort
  • Jaw pain or discomfort
  • Nearby toothaches
  • Poor breath

Dangers of Ignoring Wisdom Teeth Pain

If your wisdom teeth are causing you pain or discomfort, it’s worth talking to your dentist about whether or not you’ll need to extract them. They may take dental x-rays to determine the source of your pain.

Ignoring wisdom teeth pain, however, can be dangerous to your health. This is because the pain is caused by the following:

  • Bacterial infection
  • Cyst
  • Damage to surrounding teeth

Letting oral infections go untreated can lead to gum disease and other oral health hazards. If there isn’t enough room in your mouth for your wisdom teeth that are growing in, this can also cause damage to your gum tissue and adjacent teeth.

Wisdom Teeth Removal Cost & Procedure

The number of wisdom teeth extractions, collectively, cost over $3 billion annually. 

Depending on where you get the procedure done may affect the cost. While some dentists can perform wisdom tooth extractions, oral surgeons specialize in these types of procedures.

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Resources

Friedman, Jay W. “The Prophylactic Extraction of Third Molars: a Public Health Hazard.” American Journal of Public Health, © American Journal of Public Health 2007, Sept. 2007, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1963310/

Garaas, Rachel, et al. “Prevalence of Visible Third Molars with Caries Experience or Periodontal Pathology in Middle-Aged and Older Americans.” Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery : Official Journal of the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Feb. 2011, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21168252

Stathopoulos P;Mezitis M;Kappatos C;Titsinides S;Stylogianni E; “Cysts and Tumors Associated with Impacted Third Molars: Is Prophylactic Removal Justified?” Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery : Official Journal of the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, U.S. National Library of Medicine, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21050646/

“Wisdom Teeth Management.” AAOMS, www.aaoms.org/images/uploads/pdfs/Ebook_Wisdom_Teeth_R.pdf.

Updated on: October 20, 2020
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AnnaMarie Houlis
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