What are impacted third molars?As Megan's story indicates above, she began experiencing slight pain from her wisdom teeth, but what exactly causes your third molars to hurt? For many it may be because they are impacted. When you reach the “Age of Wisdom” between ages 17 and 25, your third molars begin to appear. We may like to think this is a direct result of all the acquired wisdom we’ve obtained throughout the years, but in all actuality, these teeth originally developed to replace our first molars after they fell out.Before modern dental medicine, cleaning your teeth was very difficult. As a result, our first molars (the second to last teeth in our mouths) would decay, fall out, and our second molars would move forward. This allowed space for our third molars to erupt. Then, our second molars would shift forward.Now thanks to brushing and flossing twice a day, our bi-annual dental visits, and teeth cleanings, our teeth last much longer. This creates very little reason to even have our wisdom teeth and, unfortunately, a very limited space for them to erupt. Therefore, the majority of us experience impacted third molars – the inability for teeth to break through the gums. According to the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, 9 out of 10 people have at least one impacted wisdom tooth.
Problems caused by impacted wisdom teethIf you do not remove impacted third molars, they may damage neighboring teeth and become more prone to infection. Your third molars are located so far back in the mouth that they are very difficult clean and maintain. As a result, this will often lead to infection, and over time, develop into periodontal disease.Sometimes tumors or cysts can form around the base of an infected wisdom tooth, and if left untreated, can cause damage to the jawbone, surrounding nerves, teeth, and other structures.
What if my wisdom teeth don’t hurt?Although it may same like a more convenient, and less painful, option at the time, deciding to keep your wisdom teeth may become more problematic in the future. Asymptomatic third molars do not necessarily mean your wisdom teeth are disease free.Typically, oral surgeons and other medical professionals can all agree wisdom teeth must be removed in the following circumstances:
- Infections and/or gum disease
- Non-restorable cavities
- Abnormalities such as cysts and tumors
- Harm to neighboring teeth
Facts about third molarsWhether or not you decide to remove your wisdom teeth, here are some evidence-based facts about your third molars and how to manage them:
- Asymptomatic third molars do not necessarily mean they are disease free. By assuming there aren’t any problems due to an absence of pain, you may put yourself at risk in the future.
- When gum disease forms through your wisdom teeth, it begins as soon as your teeth erupt through the gums. Pockets forming around third molars is a strong indicator of periodontal disease, especially when bleeding occurs when the area is poked or prodded.
- As a young adult, your risk for developing periodontal disease greatly decreases by removing your third molars.
- If you choose to keep your wisdom teeth, they may unexpectedly alter their position and the health of your gums. They may also require surgical treatment in the future. This is why yearly x-rays are recommended by those who decide to keep their third molars.