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Dr. Hunter Dawson

Medically reviewed by Dr. Hunter Dawson

By the time you reach your teens, you should have lost all of your baby teeth, with permanent teeth replacing them. However, one set of teeth may not emerge until you are in your late teens or early 20s. These are known as your third molars or wisdom teeth.

These teeth are located at the very back of the mouth, and most of the time, dentists recommend removing them as soon as possible. If you choose to leave your wisdom teeth in place, you increase your risk of more significant dental complications down the road.

Are Wisdom Teeth Necessary?

In previous generations, wisdom teeth actually served a useful purpose, replacing back molars that might have been lost to decay or dental neglect. This is much less of an issue today, thanks to significant improvements in dental care.

Today, wisdom teeth are much more likely to cause problems. Wisdom teeth often become impacted, which means they remain partially or completely trapped beneath bone and gum tissue. Impaction increases the risk of bacterial infection, tooth decay, and other concerns.

Why Have Wisdom Teeth Removed?

With most people, the jaw is too small to accommodate wisdom teeth. They are at a higher risk of impaction because they have nowhere to go and no clear path to emerge as normal. Because of this, it is usually best to have them extracted.

Not having your wisdom teeth removed places you in a higher risk category for many dental health issues, including:

  • Discomfort in your jaw or face. Your wisdom teeth can trigger pressure and pain as they emerge and shift.
  • Infection. A partially erupted wisdom tooth may create an opening in the gums, where food particles and debris become trapped. This increases your risk of bacterial infection.
  • Cysts. When left untreated, the wisdom teeth often develop small fluid-filled sacs, which can become painful cysts.
  • Tooth decay. Because impacted teeth are harder to clean and more likely to become infected, they raise your risk of tooth decay.
  • Crowding. When there is insufficient room for your wisdom teeth to erupt as normal, they may push your existing teeth, causing them to grow at odd angles. Additionally, wisdom teeth can compromise your beautiful smile by creating uneven spacing between teeth.

When Should the Wisdom Teeth Be Removed?

Your dentist will monitor the progression of your wisdom teeth, letting you know when it is time to see an oral surgeon to have them removed. By having your wisdom teeth removed as early as possible, you minimize your risk of dental complications down the road, an important preventative measure. Additionally, having wisdom teeth removed earlier in life often means an easier procedure and a more comfortable recovery.

Find out more about the benefits of having your wisdom teeth removed.