Like getting your driver’s license and attending your high school prom, getting your wisdom teeth removed is known as a rite of passage for teenagers. Some have the surgery before the teeth have even begun to break through the gum surface. Others get theirs removed only after the painful eruption of the wisdom teeth has begun.
For years, people got their teeth removed without question. But recently, we’ve had more patients at our offices outside of Phoenix, AZ, ask: Why do wisdom teeth have to come out? We certainly understand their concern. Any sort of surgery is a serious undertaking, and it should only be done for sound dental purposes, not out of tradition or for any sort of vanity reasons.
The reasoning for wisdom teeth removal in teens and adults has changed over the years. It’s important to understand why you should remove your wisdom teeth in certain cases and when you should avoid this surgery.
With that in mind, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide designed to answer the question, “Do I need to remove my wisdom teeth?” Read on to find out the answers to these questions and more:
- Can wisdom teeth cause pain in other parts of your mouth?
- Do wisdom teeth grow back?
- What are wisdom teeth symptoms?
- Why do wisdom teeth have to be removed?
After you’ve read our guide, you also can discuss with your dentist whether wisdom teeth removal is necessary.
Why Remove Wisdom Teeth?
Wisdom teeth are the four molars located in the very back of your mouth. They are the third, final set of molars to come in, and they usually sprout during the late teens to early twenties, though some people’s wisdom teeth never grow in.
For a small number of people, wisdom teeth will grow in and never cause a problem. They fit into the mouth perfectly, and while they may cause pain as they come in, they do not compromise bite or mouth function. This, however, is the exception rather than the rule.
Why Do Wisdom Teeth Need To Be Removed?
Wisdom teeth are not, in and of themselves, problematic. It’s the impact they have on the rest of your mouth and your oral hygiene that’s the issue. For many people, wisdom teeth eruption can lead to two main problems:
- Lack of space. Sometimes there’s not enough room in the mouth for the wisdom teeth to come in. When your jaw is too small for the teeth to pop through properly, they can become impacted, which is painful.
- Lack of hygiene. Even if your mouth is big enough for the wisdom teeth, they grow right next to an area where the jaw turns up. The teeth are flat, which creates periodontal pockets between the teeth and the jaw that are very difficult to clean. Bacteria and plaque can build up in these pockets, leading to tooth decay or gum disease.
You may have also heard people say that wisdom teeth can “crowd” your other teeth. Oral surgeons once cited this issue as a reason for removal, but the theory has since fallen out of favor.
Wisdom Teeth Symptoms: Signs You Need to Remove Them
Your dentist will monitor the growth of your wisdom teeth by using X-rays to see where the teeth are in your mouth. If your wisdom teeth are getting close to sprouting, or you are starting to feel pain where they will come in, then you can discuss your options with your dentist.
Surgery and tooth extraction are serious business, and your dentist will not suggest you have them done unless there is good reason. However, if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, which indicate the wisdom teeth are impacted, you may need to have the teeth out immediately:
- Infections in the back of the mouth
- Sharp, repeated pain in your gums
- Tumors or cysts
- Gum disease
- Frequent bleeding from back of the mouth
These symptoms indicate it’s time for your wisdom teeth to come out. To protect the health of your mouth, you must remove the cause of your oral hygiene problems. Many people get nervous about having the surgery, but it’s a relatively short procedure. You don’t even have to use anesthesia if that worries you. Many people use nitrous oxide, also called laughing gas, to get through the surgery.
How Are Other Body Parts Impacted?
Perhaps because so many people have their wisdom teeth removed, these teeth and their impact on other parts of the body is not well understood. People wonder whether wisdom teeth are causing pain or problems in their jaw, ear, or sinuses. They also wonder if their jaw can comfortably accommodate additional teeth without crowding out the ones that are already there.
We hear a number of questions from patients at our Glendale, AZ-area practice about wisdom teeth. We’ve compiled them below to help you understand how wisdom teeth can impact other parts of the body.
Can Wisdom Teeth Cause Jaw Pain?
Yes, sometimes they can. When your wisdom teeth are beginning to pop through, you may experience achiness in the jaw, in addition to pain in the gums. Patients occasionally report a popping sound in the jaw as well, but this is usually associated with other conditions and just happens to occur when the wisdom teeth are growing in.
If you experience severe jaw pain, however, this may be a sign of another problem. The most frequent cause of jaw pain is temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ), which affects the hinge where your jaw moves up and down. TMJ pain can be caused by any of the following:
- Clenching or grinding the teeth
- Previous jaw fractures
- Many other problems
It’s often mistaken for a wisdom tooth issue if the TMJ presents at the same time wisdom teeth are breaking through the gum surface.
Can Wisdom Teeth Cause Ear Pain?
Yes, although it’s somewhat rare. If you have an impacted wisdom tooth, it may cause your jaw to ache, and this can radiate to the ear. Some patients complain they have frequent earaches while their wisdom teeth are coming in.
Most likely, however, this is another case where the patient has TMJ. This condition can go undiagnosed, and so the symptoms are often mistaken for symptoms of other problems, such as impacted wisdom teeth. Treatments for TMJ include:
- Stretching the jaw
- Applying ice packs to the jaw
- Meditating or using other relaxation techniques to ease tension in the jaw
Any of these treatments may help with your ear pain. While your TMJ symptoms may have presented at the same time that your wisdom teeth began to grow, keep in mind that wisdom teeth do not cause TMJ. It’s a separate condition that is often mistakenly associated with wisdom teeth.
Do Wisdom Teeth Cause Headaches?
Yes, indirectly. Here’s what often happens: As your wisdom teeth grow in, the back of your jaw becomes tender. You will instinctively avoid chewing in the area where the teeth are erupting, and if you do this repeatedly, it can lead to changes in the way you hold your jaw and bite down.
This, in turn, can lead to problems with your bite as you overcompensate for the sore wisdom tooth area. Your jaw muscles become inflamed and may even spasm. This leads to the headache.
In a smaller number of cases, your wisdom teeth may become infected as they grow in. It may get so bad you can barely open your mouth, and it will also spark up that headache once again.
Can Wisdom Teeth Cause Sinus Problems?
Once again, the answer is yes: wisdom teeth can cause sinus issues, though this does not happen frequently. Sinus problems caused by wisdom teeth can range from pressure in the sinuses to headaches to stuffiness.
The issue occurs when the teeth grow in on the upper jaw. They are located far back in the mouth, just below the sinuses. As the teeth grow and roots develop, they can push against the sinuses located right above and behind. This can produce pressure in the sinuses, producing the sinus headaches and even stuffiness often associated with wisdom teeth.
Other Questions about Wisdom Teeth
We hear other questions about wisdom teeth that have nothing to do with ear, sinus, or jaw pain. Three of the most frequent queries from patients at our Peoria, AZ-area practice are:
- Do wisdom teeth grow back?
- Do wisdom teeth move your other teeth around in your mouth?
- Why do wisdom teeth have to be removed if they’re not coming in?
Here’s what we tell our patients about each one.
Do Wisdom Teeth Grow Back?
No. But it is possible to have more than one set of wisdom teeth.
In extremely rare cases, in under 2 percent of the population, people are born with an extra set of wisdom teeth, beyond the usual four. These supernumerary, another word for extra, usually appear after your first set of wisdom teeth has been removed.
Don’t worry — you won’t just wake up one day with a second set of wisdom teeth growing in. Your dentist will see these teeth on X-rays and inform you about them well before they begin to grow. Often people mistakenly think an extra set of wisdom teeth means the ones you had removed “grew” back, but clearly this is not the case.
Do Wisdom Teeth Move Your Teeth?
Decades ago, tooth crowding was one of the reasons given for removing wisdom teeth. Dentists worried that when the wisdom teeth popped through, they would push the rest of your teeth together, causing them to move and throw off your bite. This, they worried, would cause serious issues such as headaches, jaw pain, infection, and tooth decay.
But in recent years, dental theory has changed. Research suggests crowding of the adult incisors is caused by jaw growth and not by wisdom teeth pushing the other teeth forward. We’ve seen evidence of this. People who do not have wisdom teeth are still having the teeth crowding problem, indicating it was not caused by the wisdom teeth.
Is Wisdom Teeth Removal Necessary If They Are Not Growing In?
When your wisdom teeth are growing in, clearly it’s in the best interest of your future oral hygiene to get them removed. But what if the teeth show no signs of growing? Then do your wisdom teeth have to come out?
The answer in most cases is no. As long as your dentist can judge by the X-ray that:
- The teeth are not coming in
- They are not positioned at an angle that would create problems when they grow
- They pose no other potential issues for your mouth
In these cases, you may not have to have your wisdom teeth removed.
Wisdom Teeth Removal in Adults: Do I Need to Remove My Wisdom Teeth?
Perhaps you’ve made it past the teen years with your wisdom teeth intact and you’re wondering how much longer they will remain in your mouth. This is a good question to ask your dentist.
Most will tell you that if the teeth do come, and there is plenty of room in your mouth for them, then there’s no reason to perform an extraction. You can still practice good oral hygiene with wisdom teeth as long as there’s enough space in the mouth.
However, if the dentist feels the wisdom teeth are posing a threat to your dental health by creating an area that is difficult to brush and keep clean, they will recommend getting the teeth removed, even if you’re much older than the typical wisdom tooth removal patient.
Some people don’t have to ever worry about wisdom tooth removal, because they don’t have any. Just as a small number of people grow an extra set of teeth, a small number do not have wisdom teeth and never have to deal with the question of whether to have them pulled.
Why Do Wisdom Teeth Have to Be Removed When They Are Impacted?
An impacted wisdom tooth is one that can’t fully grow in because it is running into some type of barrier, usually another tooth. They can be caused by the size of the jaw or the orientation of the tooth in the gum, before it grows in. Impacted teeth are very common and happen in the majority of people whose wisdom teeth grow in.
Impacted teeth can be painful and can also result in other unpleasant side effects, including:
- Bleeding of the tissue around the tooth
- Bad breath
Impacted teeth cannot grow in properly, and so dentists will recommend their removal in most cases.
Now You Understand Why Wisdom Teeth Do Have to Come Out
There are a number of reasons why wisdom teeth should be removed. Even if you are not experiencing any problems with your growing wisdom teeth right now, you may develop issues down the road. Having these teeth removed can be a preventative measure that saves you from experiencing painful side effects such as sinus, ear, or jaw pain.