Wisdom Tooth Removal: Age of the Patient and Whether it Matters

Some young adults develop a third set of molars directly behind their adult molars, in the very back of the mouth. Called “wisdom teeth,” these molars are sometimes not a problem at all – assuming that the person has enough room in the back of the mouth to accommodate these extra teeth. But if you don’t, wisdom teeth can cause a variety of dental problems, including pain, swelling of the gum tissue, crowding of other teeth, and can even putting you at a higher risk for developing gum disease. For these reasons, your dentist may recommend that you have your wisdom teeth extracted. If you fall into this category, we’ve written this article for you. Read on to find out more about wisdom tooth removal, the age of the patient, and whether your age matters.

The Origin of the Name

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“Wisdom teeth” are called that because of the age most people are when they develop this third set of molars. Before we go any further, it’s helpful to know a little bit of history. Many years ago, a German developmental psychologist named Paul Baltes performed some studies which indicated that people become wiser between the ages of 13 and 25 and that they then remain at about the same level of wisdom until they reach 75, at which time wisdom begins to decrease along with a person’s physical health. 

As a result of these studies, this age bracket is referred to as the “age of wisdom.” Setting aside the fact that some of us may question the wisdom of teenagers, it is during this time of life (specifically between 17 and 25) when most people develop their third set of molars, or “wisdom teeth.”

What Is the Best Age to Have Wisdom Teeth Extracted?

Most dentists and oral surgeons would agree that it’s preferable to extract wisdom teeth before the roots can fully develop; in other words soon after they erupt. There are several reasons for this. When the roots aren’t fully formed, the teeth are easier to remove. As a result, the procedure has less risk of complications and the patient will heal faster than if the surgery is performed after the roots are fully developed.

Why Older Patients Should Consider Wisdom Tooth Extraction

Although it’s best to have your wisdom teeth removed between the ages of 17 and 25, that doesn’t mean that you should not have your wisdom teeth removed later in life if they begin to bother you. The fact is that wisdom teeth can be present and pose no difficulties at all for decades, then suddenly create pain and discomfort. There are several reasons why this may happen:

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  • Nerves – If your wisdom teeth are continuing to develop as you age, you could experience pressure on the nerves of those teeth.
  • Tooth decay – Wisdom teeth are difficult to clean because they are located so far back in the mouth. Because of that, it’s easy to form cavities either in your wisdom teeth or in the molars that are adjacent to them.
  • Infection – If your wisdom teeth have only partially erupted, they can form pockets in the gum tissue immediately above the tooth. Those pockets can be difficult to clean, and bacteria can begin to grow. Once that happens, it’s easy to form an infection there.

While it’s true that the extraction procedure for older adults is often more challenging for both patient and dentist alike, it’s still preferable to keeping the teeth and enduring the discomfort they may be causing. And, of course, if you have an infection the teeth will need to be removed no matter what age you may be.

Proactive Wisdom Tooth Removal

Even if your wisdom teeth aren’t painful, your dentist may still recommend extraction to prevent future problems – especially if you are in the 17 to 25 age bracket. There are several reasons for this. When wisdom teeth erupt, they often come in crooked. This crowds other existing molars and can lead to misalignment of your teeth. And, as we mentioned earlier, wisdom teeth can lead to other problems, such as tooth decay, infection and gum disease. For these reasons, some dentists will recommend that their younger patients have the teeth removed, even if they’re not currently posing a problem.

On the other hand, some people with adequate room in their mouths for the extra set of molars have no problem at all with wisdom teeth. Their third set of molars come in straight, and they’re able to keep their wisdom teeth throughout their lives without any of the issues mentioned above. Unfortunately, those people are in the minority.

Scheduling the Procedure

If you and your dentist decide that it’s best for your wisdom teeth to be removed, you should set aside an adequate amount of time in your schedule. If you’re in the 17 to 25 age group, chances are that your procedure will be uncomplicated and that your recovery time will be just a few days. But if you’re an older adult, you should anticipate a longer amount of time to heal, so plan on at least a week to recover after the procedure. Remember that wisdom tooth removal is oral surgery, and while it’s true that you will likely feel little or no discomfort during the procedure (thanks to modern dental technology and anesthetic), you will need to follow your dentist’s directions and take the time necessary to heal properly at home afterwards.

Of course, the only way to know for sure whether or not you need to have your wisdom teeth removed is to schedule an appointment with your dentist for an oral exam. Your dentist can determine what’s best for you based on your current oral health and whether you are at risk for developing other dental issues later on if you choose to keep your third set of molars. Your dentist can also provide more information about wisdom tooth removal related to the age of the patient and whether or not it matters.

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