By Joseph P. Matrullo, DMD
A question frequently asked by parents is, "When is a good time for my child's wisdom teeth to be extracted?" Wisdom teeth are the third molars that usually erupt around age 17 or 18. If these teeth do not lie in the proper orientation or if they do not have adequate room to erupt, they will remain trapped beneath the gums or bone. These impacted wisdom teeth can cause many problems ranging from infection, to bone loss (periodontitis), to crowding out other teeth.
One study found that it is best to remove impacted wisdom teeth before age 24 because the risk of complications rises sharply after that age. Impacted wisdom teeth are those that have not yet broken through the gums. Oral surgeons found that patients aged 24 to 36 had three times as many complications as those aged 16 to 24. Patients over the age of 36 had four times as many problems.
Some of the complications reported were dry socket, parasthesia (lingering numbness), bruising, and swelling. All but a few of these complications resolved within a week. Some cases of parasthesia, however, have required a few months to resolve. Only in very rare instances has the lingering numbness been permanent.
It is best if all patients age 16 to 21 have a panoramic radiograph taken to examine the positions of their wisdom teeth. A dentist can then diagnose from the radiograph which teeth show a problem or the potential to be a problem, allowing these teeth to be removed as early as possible. In adolescence, the jawbone is more pliable, making removal of the wisdom teeth much less traumatic. In older people, this bone becomes more brittle, and the procedure more invasive. Though each patient must be considered individually, in most cases the wisdom teeth should be removed, even if the patient is older than 24 years old. The benefits or having them extracted far outweigh the risks of complications during removal.
I would like to thank all of our colleagues and patients who continue to rate our practice among the best in RI.
I would also like to thank the many readers of ShopInRI for all their interesting questions. If you have a dental question you would like addressed in a future column, please mail it to me at the address below.
Dr. Matrullo is a graduate of the Tufts University School of Dental Medicine. He has a family practice in Cranston, Rhode Island that provides comprehensive dentistry, including services dealing with Cosmetic Dentistry, Periodontics, and Orthodontics.
Dr. Matrullo & Associates
1280 Park Ave.
Cranston, RI 02910