There are several ways that wisdom teeth can affect your child’s oral health. If you have invested time and money into correcting your child’s smile with orthodontics, wisdom teeth can cause unwanted crowding to come back. If your child does not have enough room in the jaw to accommodate the wisdom teeth, they may not erupt at all—and become impacted. This can be a painful situation, as impacted teeth or partial eruption can lead to inflammation and ulceration of the gums.
Even if your child’s jaw has ample room to hold the third molars, there’s a good chance they will give him trouble later in life. Why? When you look at the teeth that tend to suffer from tooth decay, it’s the molars that are most frequently affected. There are two reasons for this. First, the teeth at the back of the mouth have deeper creases and crevices in the chewing surfaces. This means it’s easier for food particles to become trapped in the ridges and it’s easier for bacteria to hide there.
Second, the teeth at the back of the mouth are much harder to keep clean than others. Next time you are brushing and flossing your teeth, stop and take a moment to make sure you clean every surface of your back molars with a variety of brush strokes (up-and-down, side-to-side, small circles). It’s trickier than we realize to do a thorough job. Therefore, it’s easy to see why molars get the worst of the cavities.
A fair amount of patients who were told they had plenty of room in the jaw to accommodate the wisdom teeth (and therefore didn’t have them extracted in their youth) wind up needing them extracted later in life, due to tooth decay or structural damage.
If you child ends up needing extractions done at age 30 or older, there is a greater potential for complications, especially if the teeth haven’t erupted properly. The teeth may be damaged by decay or more deeply embedded in the jaw bone, and this can make them harder to remove. They may also develop a painful condition in which bone slivers push their way through the gums after extraction (sequestra).
Mind you, this is not always the case! Some adult wisdom teeth extractions are clean and simple procedures, with very short convalescent periods and only minimal pain. There are also plenty of adults who keep their wisdom teeth and never need to have them extracted. Like many things related to oral health, every case is different!
Every Case is Unique – Ask an Expert to Assess Your Child’s Wisdom Teeth
Now that I’ve given you a few scary details of wisdom teeth scenarios, here’s the most important piece of advice: seek the opinion of an expert. If your child is not already seeing a dentist, start taking him in for routine dental appointments.
At every six-month visit, your dentist will take x-rays and monitor the development of the wisdom teeth. By about 10-12 years of age, the developing wisdom teeth can be seen on an x-ray, even though they won’t erupt until much later. Some say the ideal age for extraction is around age 16, but some children are ready sooner, and some later.
Ultimately, wisdom teeth extraction is a personal choice; the American Dental Association does not recommend preventive extractions for wisdom teeth, and dentists should never make you feel like it’s “mandatory.”
The bottom line is that wisdom teeth are not necessary for proper dentition and bite alignment. They are a vestigial remnant of a time when humans ate far more unprocessed grains and fibrous vegetables than we do now. We no longer need three sets of molars to chew our food, so wisdom teeth can be considered optional. To find out if wisdom teeth removal is a good option for you, talk with your dentist, and if you don’t have one, find one through our website here.