Wisdom teeth, or third molars, are the last teeth to develop and appear in your mouth. They come in between the ages of 17 and 25, a time of life that has been called the "Age of Wisdom."
Wisdom teeth may not need to be extracted if they grow in completely and are functional, painless, cavity-free, disease-free and in a hygienic environment with healthy gum tissue. They do, however, require regular, professional cleaning, annual check-ups and periodic X-rays to monitor for any changes.
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When a tooth doesn't fully grow in, it's "impacted"–usually unable to break through the gums because there isn't enough room.
An impacted wisdom tooth can damage neighboring teeth or become infected. Because it's in an area that’s hard to clean, it can also invite bacteria that lead to gum disease. Oral bacteria can also travel through your bloodstream and lead to infections and illnesses that affect your heart, kidneys and other organs. In some cases, a cyst or tumor can form around the base of the impacted tooth, which can lead to more serious problems as it hollows out the jaw and damages surrounding nerves, teeth and other parts of your mouth and face.
Generally, wisdom teeth should be surgically removed when there are:
- Infections and/or periodontal (gum) disease
- Cavities that can’t be restored
- Cysts, tumors or other pathologies
- Damage to neighboring teeth