Be Wise about Your Teen’s Wisdom Teeth

Last updated on October 21st, 2016 at 06:52 pm

male dentist with woman patient at clinicWisdom teeth, otherwise known as third molars, normally push through the gums between ages 17 to 25. The nickname “wisdom teeth” dates all the way back to the 17th century, implying a person may not be truly wise until he or she receives third molars. These are the last teeth to erupt through the gums for adults. Have your wisdom teeth already arrived?

Here are some symptoms to watch for:

  • Red, inflamed or tender gums behind your molars
  • Discomfort toward the back of the mouth when chewing food or drinking
  • Jaw pain and tenderness
  • Bad breath
  • Unpleasant taste upon chewing food

But what about these symptoms occurring for “tweens”, those from ages 11 to 15? This age range is the time that  second (or 12-year) molars are typically coming into the mouth behind the first (or six-year) molars. The same conditions can occur as the second molars erupt into the mouth as when third molars erupt. Typically there is less room for third molar than second molars so these problems are more common with the third molars. When pain and inflammation is present, a dentist will usually not remove the tooth that is a second molar. He or she will likely clean and medicate the area with an antibacterial rinse and in a few cases perform a simple surgical procedure to remove the inflamed tissue that covers the top of the erupting tooth. Thankfully in most cases there is no need for any treatment as the tooth continues to grow into place and the pain goes away all by itself. Not sure if they’re second molars or wisdom teeth? Ask your dentist. He or she can take a quick look and tell you in a second and save you a lot of worrying and second-guessing.

Dental professionals typically recommend removing wisdom teeth through surgery, due to the common problems associated with their arrival. If the alignment in a patient’s teeth is extremely straight, he or she may not need wisdom teeth removal. However, perfect alignment is rare, and extraction is necessary when wisdom teeth do not grow in properly.

If a smile is already a bit crowded, the arrival of wisdom teeth can make things even more complicated. Overcrowding can lead to problems in the gums and bone, cavities and shifting of existing teeth. If a wisdom tooth only partially breaks through the surface of the gums, an unhealthy amount of bacteria tends to grow, causing infection resulting in swelling, stiffness, pain and other illnesses. When your dentist sees this problem the diagnosis is called pericoronitis and the suggestion is typically that the teeth be removed.

Many wisdom teeth become impacted, which means they cannot erupt through the gums because they grew in facing the wrong angle. Impacted wisdom teeth do not have an open connection to the mouth, which may lead to pain, inflammation, infection or damage to adjacent teeth.

To avoid these risks, early removal is strongly recommended. By waiting until an older age, the risk of the procedure and healing time significantly increase. It is preferable to have wisdom teeth removed before they cause problems in overall oral health.

If you are considering wisdom tooth removal, the biggest variable of the surgery is how you want to be medicated. Options include one or more of the following:

  • Local anesthesiaThis type of on-site injection is used for other dental procedures to numb the area.
  • Laughing gas (nitrous oxide)Laughing gas can be used in conjunction with local anesthesia to “take the edge off”.
  • Oral Conscious sedation—A combination of medications keep the patient in a groggy state for the procedure. You may have heard that this technique is called Chill with the Pill.
  • Oral medications for anxiety—Anti-anxiety medications are used to combat fear and anxiety before and during a procedure.
  • I.V. Sedation—A combination of medications that temporarily put the patient under so that the procedure can be done and they are not aware of it. This is done in many dental practices.
  • General anesthesia —In rare, complex situations, a patient may be “put under” for oral surgery. This type of anesthesia requires advanced training and typically does not take place in a dental clinic setting.

Thankfully, there are many options for making wisdom tooth extractions relatively simple and painless. We know not all wisdom teeth may need to be removed, but if you suspect you may need to have your wisdom teeth taken out, feel free to schedule an appointment with your dentist for further consultation.

About the Author

I am a family dentist who treats children as well as adults. Making smiles people love, extreme makeovers and complex dental reconstruction is our niche including implants, TMJ, orthodontics and cosmetic dentistry. As a participant in the blog, I will be offering dental perspectives on pediatric safety and health care options on a regular basis. I can be reached at www.suwaneedental.com. Blessings to all! Dr Williams is a member of the PedSafe Expert team

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