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But, I don’t want my wisdom teeth out!

smiling womanWisdom Teeth, sometimes called 3rd molars, are the last set of teeth to grow in. They typically start coming up in your teenage years. Some people are missing wisdom teeth and never have any grow in. Other people, like one unfortunate relative, have extra wisdom teeth. Most of us just have one in each quadrant for a total of four.

Your dentist will almost always recommend that you get your wisdom teeth pulled before you are off of your parents insurance as a teenager. While there are some exceptions to this rule, for the most part your dentist wants to get the wisdom teeth out before they start to cause you problems.

You’re probably thinking, “But they don’t hurt! Why should I go through the pain of having perfectly good teeth removed?” This is valid question. As dental professionals, we get used to being right. Normally, people just do what we tell them to do. Sometimes we get impatient with questions because of this, but your question is not actually unreasonable.

So to answer to the best of my ability: You might or might not really need to get your wisdom teeth out. BUT-So very many people actually run into problems with these teeth later that statistically you will need them out within the next decade. I know that when you’re sixteen you think that a decade is a really long time, but sixteen plus ten is twenty-six, the age that most people are kicked off of their parents insurance.

The other reason that your dentist will recommend getting the wisdom teeth out is that many times your wisdom teeth are in there wonky. By wonky I mean like sideways, pointing in the wrong direction such as backwards, towards your jaw or laying on its side and etc. So, while it’s trying to grow it will grow in the wrong direction causing you pain and messing with your other teeth. If you have teeth like this your dentist would have used words like impacted to describe what was going on in your mouth.

pano x-ray showing what impacted wisdom teeth look like

photo credit: Andy Li from flickr under on_the_wings

A completely bony impaction is what I was just describing to you, the sideways tooth. It will usually be all the way under your jaw bone. Now, when you are a little younger, like 13, 14, or fifteen your wisdom teeth might not have roots and so they would still be completely bony impacted. However, without a compelling reason, your dentist will usually let those babies grow some roots before tackling your wisdom teeth extractions. The reason is that without any root to stabilize the tooth, it’ll spin in the socket while he’s trying to extract. Imagine trying to pull out a ball-bearing with WD-40 all over it with a pair of needle nose pliers and you have an idea of what it’s like for your dentist to try to pull an immature wisdom tooth. Very traumatic for you and very frustrating for him! No bueno!

Another phrase your dentist might use to describe your wisdom teeth is partially bony impacted. This tooth is probably not lying on its side, but it’s not straight up and down either. A partially bony is likely either leaning into your second molar or there’s not enough room in your mouth for it to come up all of the way or both. This will also eventually cause you pain and it could also cause cavities to form on the second molar. Food gets trapped behind your second molar on top of your wisdom teeth and causes both the second molar and the wisdom tooth to decay.

Even if your wisdom teeth are coming in straight up and down, if you have teeth crowding your dentist might still recommend that they come out. This would be to alleviate current crowding and prevent further crowding. This helps you not have to have braces if you didn’t already need them. If your wisdom teeth are coming in straight up and down with no leaning into the teeth next to them and no crowding, then congratulations! You are a statistical minority and probably don’t need your wisdom teeth out.

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