Wisdom teeth are the last upper and lower molar teeth to erupt into the mouth (usually between 18 and 24 years) and are positioned furthest back in the mouth. A person will have usually have 4 wisdom teeth, upper left, upper right, lower left and lower right.
Sometimes wisdom teeth have insufficient space to emerge into its expected position and are described as impacted. An impacted wisdom tooth may cause no problems at all. Sometimes however if a wisdom tooth has penetrated through the gum and has emerged partially into the mouth – described as partially erupted the tooth is very difficult to clean and the surrounding gum may become inflamed, or the wisdom tooth or the molar in front may become decayed, or gum disease may develop around these teeth. Sometimes the misdirected wisdom tooth can cause damage to the molar in front.
If these problems arise your dentist may recommend that the wisdom tooth is extracted.
However if any of the wisdom teeth are not causing problems then extraction is usually not advisable as the operation to remove the tooth brings its own risks. The operation will often involve removing the bone encasing the partially buried wisdom tooth and dividing the tooth into smaller pieces.
The complications and risks that can occur include infection in the empty tooth socket, damage to the neighbouring molar tooth and damage to the nerves which are positioned close to the roots of the lower wisdom tooth. If these nerves are damaged temporary or permanent numbness of the tongue, lip or chin may occur.
Your dentist should warn you of the risks of removing wisdom teeth and advise you as to whether extraction is necessary.