Back in the dark ages of dentistry and dental practices, wisdom teeth, or our third molars, were viewed as strange leftovers of our ancestral past that serve no function or purpose that we know of – much like an appendix or the arrector pili muscles in the skin. Well, they are still viewed that way, but their treatment protocols have changed significantly over the past couple of decades.
Believe it or not, some people never develop wisdom teeth, but of the other 65% that do develop them, about 75-85% of them could face extraction because of misalignment or impacting (blocked).[i] If the teeth only partially erupt, food and microbes can become trapped in the surrounding gum tissue and lead to serious infection. Because of this, in eras gone by, dentists would remove wisdom teeth in the belief of “better to be safe than sorry.”
Many oral surgeons will refer to studies citing that if third molars are left in, cysts and tumors, as well as inflammation, infection, and even periodontal disease will develop. However, the possibility of these risks are only a 2.7% chance. The ideology of prophylactic wisdom teeth extraction has changed vastly now. Britain’s own National Health Service stopped paying for this routine procedure back in the 90s, saying there was no solid evidence to support the practice. And today, dentists in the US even argue against this once standard practice. Some are arguing that keeping the teeth may provide extra backup teeth in case you need a replacement. So, how can you know when you need your wisdom teeth removed?
Well, if the teeth are healthy and there are no other periodontal issues, cysts, tumors, pain, or infection, then your dentist will recommend keeping an eye on them and making sure your oral hygiene is 100% on point. If you are experiencing multiple issues associated with your wisdom teeth, you may need to look at treatment options and possible extraction. The best advice is to talk things out with your dentist and find out what your options are. Remember, you and your dentist are team and by spearheading issues early, your teeth will lead a healthy, happy, and productive existence.