Wisdom teeth are actually third molars. They are the final molars that attempt to enter the mouth behind the 6 and 12 year molars. This usually occurs in the late teens or early twenties; a time of life when a lot of "wisdom" is acquired.
In a large proportion of the population there is not enough room in the jaw bone for the wisdom tooth/teeth to enter the mouth properly, if at all. This means that the tooth is "impacted". Impacted wisdom teeth can lead to many negative health issues. Most commonly, local infection of the soft tissues surrounding the wisdom tooth provides the first symptoms. These infections can progress to the tissues of the face and the neck and even systemically to the rest of the body. In the absence of infection other diseases such as cysts and tumors may occur.
Wisdom teeth may not need to be extracted if they grow in completely and are functional, painless, cavity-free, disease-free and in a hygienic environment with healthy gum tissue. They do, however, require regular, professional cleaning, annual check-ups and periodic X-rays to monitor for any changes.
Generally, wisdom teeth should be surgically removed when there are:
- Infections and/or periodontal (gum) disease
- Cavities that can’t be restored
- Cysts, tumors or other pathologies
- Damage to neighboring teeth