Sifting the Facts from the Hype about Wisdom Teeth


Popular opinion holds that if wisdom teeth do not cause pain, it is fine to leave them be. In reality, wisdom teeth extraction is extremely commonplace and, many experts say, for good reason. The American Journal of Public Health (AJPH) reports that about five million people have wisdom teeth removed every year. These permanent adult teeth, also known as third molars, grow in later than other teeth, typically between the ages of 17 and 25. They can cause pain and discomfort or they may grow in virtually unnoticed. Many dentists and oral surgeons feel that extraction is a worthwhile protective measure against future health problems.

Furthermore, the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (AAOMS) reports that wisdom teeth are impacted (i.e., there is not adequate space in the mouth for the molars to grow in) in nine out of ten people, a circumstance that can pose serious health risks: Impacted wisdom teeth can cause pain, damage neighboring teeth, and lead to infection or periodontal disease. If infection sets in, anything from swollen or bleeding gums to headaches to bad breath can result. Perhaps scariest of all: because they can be difficult to clean properly, impacted wisdom teeth can even promote the growth of dangerous bacteria that can enter the bloodstream and cause problems in other parts of the body, such as the heart or the kidneys.

In light of these serious potential consequences, the AAOMS and other dental experts encourage patients to have the third molars examined in early adolescence to evaluate them and determine whether extraction surgery might be necessary.

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