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How to Handle Teenager Wisdom Teeth

Teenager wisdom teeth can trigger a lot of questions about whether or not they will need to have them removed. As an issue that impacts teenagers and young adults, the arrival of wisdom teeth must be monitored by an experienced pediatric dentist each visit so that a proper plan of action can be created. Let’s take a look at some of the basics regarding wisdom teeth below so that we can answer some of the most common questions.

What are wisdom teeth?

Appearing in teenagers between the ages of 17 and 21, wisdom teeth are named due to the fact that they appear when a child is older and more mature. Also commonly called ‘third molars’, these teeth can pose dental problems if there is not enough space in the mouth to accommodate them. This is not always the case, however. Not everyone needs their wisdom teeth removed and some people have enough room in the mouth to have their wisdom teeth come in and these extra teeth actually end up helping with chewing without posing any additional issues.

However, an average of 5 million people in the United States do have some or all of their wisdom teeth removed each year. This means that if your teenager is experiencing some of the telltale signs listed below, they should be examined to determine if their wisdom teeth may need to be removed.

Keep in mind that the removal of wisdom teeth is a common procedure. Since wisdom teeth are not actually necessary to keep (since our mouths function properly already before they even arrive) their removal will not cause a decrease in the efficiency of the functions of the mouth and its ability to chew.

It is interesting for most kids to learn that wisdom teeth are actually ‘leftover’ from when our human ancestors had to really grind down plant matter while eating. Like the appendix or the tailbone, wisdom teeth are known as ‘vestigial’ organs that no longer serve the function they originally performed in ancestral humans. Our ancestors had larger jaws and also often lost teeth, so their mouths had more room for extra teeth. With modern dental care, and the evolution of our jaws, wisdom teeth have become redundant and can be removed without losing a core function of the body.

What are the signs that teenager wisdom teeth should be removed?

Most healthy adults have 28 teeth in total, with the arrival of wisdom teeth adding 4 more teeth in the mouth. With 32 teeth total, there can be discomfort or pain in the mouth due to a lack of space. Your teenager should see a pediatric dentist if they experience the following issues:

  • gum pain
  • Wisdom teeth come in crooked
  • Swelling in the face or gums

What role do pediatric dentists play?

Even though wisdom teeth don’t arrive between the ages of 17-21, pediatric dentists play an important role in monitoring their arrival and evaluating their positioning. Since pediatric dentist see clients in their teenage years, they can start to inspect for the arrival of wisdom teeth when your child turns 15 or 16. Since wisdom teeth can cause issues due to the fact that the mouth can often be too small to handle the arrival of these 4 new molars, your pediatric dentist will monitor for them during each 6 month checkup. X-rays may also be taken to determine the arrival and alignment of the 4 wisdom teeth in your child.

X-rays are especially important to determine if the wisdom teeth are ‘impacted’. This means that they are not breaking through the gums and are still buried. This does not automatically mean they have to be removed, however their positioning needs to be monitored and also how the wisdom teeth affect adjacent teeth.

Additionally, your pediatric dentist will often refer your child to an oral surgeon for a consultation regarding their wisdom teeth and if they should be removed.

Do wisdom teeth really need to be removed?

Since the jaw has stopped growing during young adulthood, the arrival of 4 new teeth can pose problems and may require extraction of the wisdom teeth. As mentioned above, not everyone needs their wisdom teeth removed, and some people only need some of their wisdom teeth removed, not all. If there is pain or swelling present, then obviously the removal of the impacted wisdom teeth in these scenarios will be beneficial.

Wisdom teeth pushing against existing teeth may also lead to issues such as damage or infection. Also, if a wisdom tooth arrives but does not fully erupt, it becomes harder to clean and this can lead to common issues such as decay, cavities or gum disease. This is especially true since they are located at the back of the mouth and are harder to brush and floss.

Monitoring the arrival and impact of wisdom teeth is important and your pediatric dentist can determine if these new molars will likely cause problems or not.

Ignoring a wisdom tooth that is likely to impact your existing teeth is not advisable as they can cause great pain, crooked teeth and can damage existing teeth or cause the dissolving of the roots of the existing molars.

Removing wisdom teeth is advisable earlier than later. As the roots are not yet set and fully developed, they are easier to remove and recovery time is shorter. If left to fully erupt, the procedure can cause a drawn-out recovery process.

There is some debate as to how necessary the removal of wisdom teeth is when there are no obvious signs of pain or dental issues. Since there a variety of ways that wisdom teeth can erupt, and a variety of issues that may be faced based upon their placement in the mouth, it is best to talk to a pediatric dentist about your child’s teeth and how these third molars may impact their development as they age from the teenager years to adulthood.

Written by: Dr. Dylan Bordonaro, DMD

As a dentist at Junior Smiles Children’s Dentistry®, Dr. Dylan enjoys developing friendly and long-lasting relationships with his patients and with their parents.

Categories: Tooth Loss

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