Wisdom Teeth in the Older and Wiser
If you have wisdom teeth and you’re over 50 years old, you’re in an interesting minority. Only about 25% of people ever grow wisdom teeth. And about 85% have them removed around the time they begin to erupt or shortly thereafter. That’s because wisdom teeth commonly grow crooked, overlapping with other teeth, squeezing up through the gums at awkward angles, or don’t fully erupt through the gums. So, they’re surgically removed to prevent overcrowding, infections, impaction, sinus issues, inflammation of the gums and jaw, cavities, and cysts.
But if you’ve made it this far in life without having them removed, you may feel it’s best to leave well enough alone. And you may be 100% correct—if you were fortunate to have enough room for them to grow in straight, without crowding other teeth, and they’re still healthy.
Should You Consider Removal?
Whether or not to remove wisdom teeth as an adult comes down to the health of your mouth. There’s no proven health benefit to pulling wisdom teeth that aren’t creating issues.
But it’s not uncommon for wisdom teeth to cause problems later in life simply due to where they’re located in the mouth. Because of how they’re crowded into the very back, they can be more difficult to brush and floss properly. If a wisdom tooth is partially or fully under your gums, it can be even more vulnerable to cavities and infection.
When Keeping Them May Be Best
Any surgical procedure can be more challenging for adults over the age of 50, especially if you have other health conditions.
In mature adults, removal of wisdom teeth can take longer because of increased bone density. It can also take longer to heal, and you may have a higher risk of post-operative issues like bleeding, nerve injury, or infection .
When Keeping Them May Not Be Best
If you’re getting cavities in your wisdom and adjoining teeth or the gums are inflamed around them, removal may be the best approach.
Yes, you can have the cavities filled, the gum inflammation treated. But any issues you’re seeing now with your wisdom teeth will probably continue to get worse if you’re finding it too hard to reach them for proper daily care.
Here are some reasons your dentist may recommend the removal of your wisdom teeth:
- There’s damage to the surrounding teeth
- Your teeth are shifting or overcrowding
- You have gum disease, which increases the risk of abscesses
- X-rays have revealed a cyst that can damage the bone or roots
Increased Risk of Health Impacts
People often forget that the health of our mouths impacts our overall health. As we develop health conditions throughout life, it becomes even more critical to keep our mouths healthy.
It’s all about the bacteria. Bacterial buildup can create tooth decay and gum disease. Gum infection, in particular, is an oral health issue that can become a bigger health threat because bleeding gums open your entire body up to the possibility of other disease processes.
Oral bacteria have also been found in the plaque that blocks arteries —which can lead to heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular problems.
And gum disease can make it harder to regulate blood sugar levels for people with diabetes—inflammation (which occurs in gum disease) in diabetics can make it difficult for the body to use insulin to bring down blood sugar levels.
What Can You Do?
As always, prevention is the best medicine. If your teeth and gums are healthy, keep doing what you’re doing!
It may be possible to address any current issues and then stave off additional problems with a good oral care routine and regular visits to the dentist. It’s important to catch any emerging issues as early as possible if you want to avoid wisdom teeth removal.
Dr. Charles Sutera , DMD, FAGD , is a doctor of dental medicine, TMJ specialist, board-certified in moderate dental anesthesiology, and renowned for high profile cosmetic dental reconstructions. He is a Fellow of the Academy of General Dentistry and is the founder of his dental practice, Aesthetic Smile Reconstruction .
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