Do I need my wisdom teeth out?

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Do I need my wisdom teeth out?
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We are often told that when your wisdom teeth start coming in you need to get them pulled out.  However this is not always the case.  Everyone’s situation is different which is why it can be difficult to decide whether or not it is necessary to get them extracted.  What is more scientific studies suggest that the systematic removal of wisdom teeth is unnecessary.  Are you confused about whether you should be getting your wisdom teeth removed?  In this scenario you should always speak to your dentist as they will give you professional advice.  They can explain your situation and tell you why they believe you should or shouldn’t get your wisdom teeth removed.  Nevertheless some symptoms are certainly worth knowing about so that you can organise an appointment with the dentist straight away! 

What are wisdom teeth?

Wisdom teeth, also known as third molars, are teeth that erupt at the back of your mouth.   These teeth can push through at any age and stage but it generally happens in your late teens or early twenties.  Many adults have four wisdom teeth for each quadrant of the mouth but some people can have only one or none at all.

It is believed that third molars helped our human ancestors to grind, chew and then digest plant tissue.  They are thought to have had larger jaws with more teeth than modern day humans.  With the arrival of agricultural practices around 10,000 years ago, the human diet became more carbohydrate and high energy food based.  As a result our jaws developed so they were less pronounced than our ancestors.  However this also means that we often don’t have enough space for our wisdom teeth when they grown in which can pose problems.

Britain and extracting wisdom teeth

In Britain, the extraction of wisdom teeth is one of the most common surgical procedures.  However unlike other countries like the USA and Australian, the UK abandoned the procedure of routinely removing wisdom teeth in 1998.  A study from the University of York from the same year stated that there was no scientific evidence to support this approach.  Instead they suggest “that impacted third molars should not be removed unless pathological changes are evident.”

How do you know if they should be removed?

Removing wisdom teeth is a tricky topic and has sparked much debate among professionals.  However many studies state that removing wisdom teeth which are not affected by a condition is unnecessary.

This is why it is important you speak to your dentist particularly if you are suffering from pain.  In this case the dentist can assess whether your wisdom teeth need to be removed or not.

Situations when your wisdom teeth may need to be removed:

  • If your wisdom tooth is trapped under the gum and is impacting your jaw.  This situation can sometimes cause an infection or a cyst which could affect the roots of other teeth or the bone support.
  • If your wisdom tooth has only partially emerged.  This situation could cause gum disease and oral infections if the area around the partially emerged tooth is difficult to clean.  It is easy for food to get trapped which rots the tooth and gums.
  • If your wisdom tooth is crowding nearby teeth.  In this situation there is sometimes not enough space for your wisdom teeth and as a result it can damage other teeth around it.

However remember every person is different and sometimes your wisdom tooth is trapped under your gum or partially emerged and it poses no pathological problems.  Similarly some of these problems such as gum disease and infection can be treated with other products like antiseptics mouthwashes or antibiotics. Therefore wisdom teeth removal is often advised only when other treatments haven’t worked.

Situations when your teeth pose no problems

Here are some examples when dentists will consider it unnecessary to remove your wisdom teeth if they are in:

  • a healthy condition and showing no sign of decay
  • have grown in completely (fully erupted) and not crowding any other teeth.
  • are positioned correctly with opposing teeth and there is a good bite.
  • are able to be well cleaned as part of your daily hygiene routine.

In any case you should speak to a dentist as they will be able to assess the position of your teeth under an x-ray and can tell whether your tooth could pose problems in the future.

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How is the procedure carried out?

If your dentist decides that you need to get your wisdom tooth extracted you may be recommended to to a specialist surgeon or your dentist will carry out the procedure themselves.  They will clearly explain how the procedure will be carried out.

You will be given a local anesthetic so that you don’t feel pain as the area around the affected tooth is numbed.  The dentist will then enlarge the tooth socket so they can rock it back and forth before it is extracted.  You may feel some slight pressure but no pain. In some cases the tooth needs to be cut into several pieces before it can be extracted.  Overall the procedure can last anything from a couple of minutes to half an hour or longer depending on the individual.

Removing wisdom teeth is the most common surgical procedure in the UK.  However as with every procedure there are complication risks which can include infection or a slow recovery.  This is even more likely if you smoke during your recovery period.  There is also a very small risk of nerve damage which can produce a numb or prickly sensation in your mouth.  Overtime this feeling will begin to fade although in some rare cases it can remain.

After the procedure has been carried out you will feel some internal and external swelling of the mouth.  The area will also be sensitive for the first couple of days but it can last for up to a couple of weeks.

Final words

Knowing whether your wisdom teeth need to be removed is often difficult to determine.  Nevertheless if you are suffering from pain or are aware that you  are struggling to properly clean a tooth that is partially emerged you should make an appointment with the dentist. Only a professional dentist can give you the best advice on whether you require a surgical procedure.

One final note: Remember to keep your teeth clean by brushing twice a day so as to reduce plaque build up and prevent tooth decay!

Sources: NHS; Mayo Clinic, Science Alert.

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