Wisdom (third molar) teeth can be a valuable asset to the mouth when they are healthy and properly positioned. Often, however, problems develop that require their removal. When the jaw isn’t large enough to accommodate wisdom teeth, they can become impacted (unable to come in or misaligned). Wisdom teeth may grow sideways, emerge only part way from the gum or remain trapped beneath the gum and bone. Extraction of wisdom teeth is generally recommended when:
- Wisdom teeth only partially erupt. This leaves an opening for bacteria to enter around the tooth and cause an infection. Pain, swelling, jaw stiffness and general illness can result.
- X-rays show insufficient space in the jaws to allow eruption of developing wisdom teeth.
- There is a chance that poorly aligned wisdom teeth will damage adjacent teeth.
- A cyst (fluid-filled sac) forms, destroying surrounding structures such as bone or tooth roots.
Patients should ask the dentist about the health and positioning of their wisdom teeth. The dentist may make a recommendation for removal or send the patient to an oral surgeon for further evaluation.