Wisdom tooth problems

Wisdom teeth are the upper and lower third molars, located at the very back of the mouth, that usually come in (erupt) when a person is between 17 and 21 years old. They can cause problems if there is not enough room for them to grow in normally or to be cleaned properly.

Most problems with wisdom teeth develop in people between the ages of 15 and 25. Few people older than 30 develop problems that require removal of their wisdom teeth.

Wisdom tooth problems include the following:

  • The jaw may not have enough space for the wisdom teeth to come in, and they may be unable to push through the gums (impacted). More serious problems can develop from impacted teeth, such as infection, damage to other teeth and bone, or development of a cyst.
  • The wisdom teeth may push partway through the gums, causing a flap of gum tissue to grow over them. Food can become trapped under the flap and cause the gums to become red, swollen, and painful.
  • One or more of the wisdom teeth may come in at an awkward angle, with the top of the tooth facing forward, backward, or to either side.

A dental professional can examine the teeth and gums for signs of erupting or crowded wisdom teeth. He or she can take X-rays to see whether the wisdom teeth are causing problems now or whether they are likely to cause problems in the future.

The most common treatment for wisdom tooth problems is removal (extraction) of the tooth. Experts disagree about whether to remove a wisdom tooth that is not causing obvious symptoms or problems.

Last Updated: September 8, 2009

Author: Jeannette Curtis

Medical Review: Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Arden Christen, DDS, MSD, MA, FACD - Dentistry

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