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Should Dentists Remove Teens' Wisdom Teeth? Advice For Parents

Healthy adults normally have 32 permanent teeth, including four wisdom teeth. The wisdom teeth (or third molars) generally start to erupt when you hit your late teens, and dentists often suggest that they remove these teeth at an early age. Find out why your wisdom teeth can cause problems, and consider the reasons why a dentist may suggest early extraction.

The problem with wisdom teeth

Scientists believe that the wisdom teeth were once critical to humans, but evolution has largely left these molars redundant. Over time, research shows that the human lower jaw has slowly reduced in size. As a result of this change in physiology, the wisdom teeth now largely serve no real purpose, but they can cause serious dental problems.

In such a tight space, the wisdom teeth often fail to fully erupt. When this happens, people generally find it difficult to brush and floss properly between the teeth, increasing the risk of infection, gum disease and tooth decay. Studies show that people who keep their wisdom teeth are at higher risk of caries or gum disease than patients who ask their dentists to extract the offending molars.

What's more, crowded back molars can slowly push neighbouring teeth out of place. In some cases, patients experience recurring ulcers and infections on the inside of the cheek, where the wisdom teeth continually rub. For teens with recurring wisdom tooth infections, a dentist may recommend antibiotics, but this is only a short-term fix. While the infection may subside, it's likely that the problem will come back again.

Factors to consider before extraction

When recommending wisdom tooth extraction, dentists will normally consider several factors. A dentist may suggest you leave your wisdom teeth alone if:

  • They erupt fully
  • They are in the right position
  • You have a normal bite
  • You can clean the teeth easily as part of a normal cleaning regime

For teens, the decision-making process is sometimes different, and dentists may suggest extraction even if the teeth don't cause a problem for your son or daughter.

Dentists recommend wisdom tooth extraction in teens because the surgery is generally easier for younger patients. At this age, the roots of these teeth will not have yet fully formed, which means that an extraction is generally easier to perform and less traumatic for the patient. What's more, teens are likely to recover from the surgery more quickly than older patients.

Assessing your teen's wisdom teeth

Before he or she makes a final recommendation, your dentist will carefully examine your son or daughter's wisdom teeth. He or she will normally use X-ray images to closely inspect the level of eruption, the angle of the tooth and how close the tooth is to the inferial dental nerve.

In some cases, an X-ray may show that the tooth is close to the nerve. Signs the dentist will look for include:

  • Darkening of the root
  • A break in the white line of the root canal
  • Signs that the canal is passing around the root

These images can help the dentist assess how difficult the extraction is, but he or she can also look for signs that show how the teeth could become more problematic in the future. For example, even if the tooth has fully erupted, the dentist may see evidence that shows how the angle of the tooth could cause problems for your son or daughter in the future. As such, after a detailed examination, your family dentist could still recommend wisdom tooth extraction even if your teen shows no adverse dental symptoms.

Of course, the decision to remove the teeth remains with you and your teen, and your dentist will simply recommend the best course of action based on the evidence at hand. Nonetheless, studies suggest that, for many people, the wisdom teeth are a problem waiting to happen, so it's a good idea to consider preventive options when your son or daughter is still young.

If you have more questions about wisdom teeth or dental hygiene in general, contact your local dentist.