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Wisdom Teeth: Should I Have My Wisdom Teeth Removed?

You may want to have a say in this decision, or you may simply want to follow your doctor's recommendation. Either way, this information will help you understand what your choices are so that you can talk to your doctor about them.

Wisdom Teeth: Should I Have My Wisdom Teeth Removed?

Get the facts

Your options

  • Have your wisdom teeth removed.
  • Don't have your wisdom teeth removed.

Key points to remember

  • Have your dentist check your wisdom teeth if you're 16 to 19 years old.
  • Your dentist may recommend that you have your wisdom teeth removed if they cause pain or an infection, crowd other teeth, or get stuck (impacted) and can't break through your gums.
  • Some dentists and oral surgeons think it's best to have impacted wisdom teeth removed (extracted) before you're 20 years old, because it's easier to take them out when the roots and bones of your teeth are softer and not fully formed. And when you're younger, you tend to heal faster.
  • You may never have any problems with your wisdom teeth, especially if you're already older than 30.
  • Wisdom teeth that are healthy and come in properly don't cause problems.
FAQs

What are wisdom teeth?

Wisdom teeth are the upper and lower third molars, located at the very back of your mouth. They are the last teeth to surface in the mouth. They are called wisdom teeth because they usually come in when a person is between 17 and 21 years old—old enough to have gained some "wisdom."

Some people have their wisdom teeth for their entire lives. Other people choose to have their wisdom teeth removed, sometimes before these teeth have broken through the gums.

What causes problems with wisdom teeth?

If your jaw is not big enough to make room for your wisdom teeth, they may get stuck (impacted) in your jaw and not be able to break through your gums. An impacted wisdom tooth can crowd other teeth and create painful, swollen, and infected flaps in your gums.

Wisdom teeth that have broken through your gums may cause cavities and gum disease, because they can be hard to clean.

Sometimes a cyst can form that can damage the bone or roots.

Most problems with wisdom teeth happen when a person is 15 to 25 years old. Few people older than 30 have problems with their wisdom teeth that require them to be removed.

Most dentists feel that if you're 16 to 19 years old, you should have your wisdom teeth looked at.

Some dentists and oral surgeons think it's best to have impacted wisdom teeth removed (extracted) before you're 20 years old, because it's easier to take them out when the roots and bones of your teeth are softer and not fully formed. As you get older, the bones around your teeth grow and get hard. This makes it harder to remove the teeth. And when you're older, it may take longer for you to heal after you have had them removed.

What are the risks of having your wisdom teeth removed?

After you have your wisdom teeth removed, you may have:

  • Pain and swelling in your gums and tooth socket where the tooth was removed.
  • Bleeding that won't stop for about 24 hours.
  • Problems or pain when you try to open your jaw. This is called trismus.
  • Slow-healing gums.
  • Damage to dental work, such as crowns or bridges, or to roots of a nearby tooth.
  • Dry socket, which causes pain and swelling and occurs when the blood clot that protects the open tooth socket is lost too soon.
  • Numbness in your mouth and lips after the local anesthetic wears off or because of an injury or swelling to the nerves in your jaw. Numbness usually goes away. But in rare cases, it may not.1
  • An opening into your sinus cavity if a wisdom tooth is removed from the upper jaw.

There is a small risk of death or other problems whenever a general anesthetic is used.

The decision to have your wisdom teeth removed if they're not impacted has to be weighed against the risks and benefits of having them removed.

What are the risks of NOT having your wisdom teeth removed?

Problems may occur if you don't have your wisdom teeth removed. For example:

  • When there isn't enough room in your mouth for your wisdom teeth to come in, they may get impacted and never break through your gums.
  • Your wisdom teeth may break through your gums only partway, causing a flap of gum tissue to grow over them. Food can get trapped under the flap and cause your gums to become red, swollen, and painful.2 These are signs of an infection.
  • One or more of your wisdom teeth may come in at the wrong angle. The top of the tooth may face forward, backward, or to either side.
  • Impacted teeth can cause infection and damage to your other teeth and bones. A fluid sac may form around an impacted tooth, and the sac may grow into a cyst. This could cause lasting damage to your nearby teeth, jaw, and bones.
  • Your risk of getting cavities and gum disease in the back of your mouth is higher if you keep your wisdom teeth, because it's hard to brush and floss that part of your mouth well. But if you visit your dentist once or twice a year, these problems can be found and treated early.
  • Your wisdom teeth may cause problems with future orthodontic treatment.

Why might your dentist recommend having your wisdom teeth removed?

Your dentist may suggest that you have your wisdom teeth removed if:

  • They cause pain or an infection.
  • They crowd other teeth.
  • They are impacted.

Compare your options

Compare

What is usually involved?









What are the benefits?









What are the risks and side effects?









Have your wisdom teeth removed Have your wisdom teeth removed
  • Your doctor will either numb your mouth or give you medicine that lets you sleep during the procedure.
  • An oral surgeon or your dentist will open the gums over the wisdom teeth, remove the teeth, and may close the gums with stitches, if needed.
  • Your stitches will be removed after a few days, if needed.
  • Most people recover in a few days.
  • You continue to take care of your teeth and have regular dental exams.
  • Having your wisdom teeth removed can help prevent:
    • Damage to your other teeth, bones, and jaw.
    • An infection.
    • Cavities and gum disease in the back of your mouth.
  • Possible side effects include:
    • Pain.
    • Swelling.
    • Bleeding.
    • Infection.
    • Dry socket.
  • In rare cases, you may have:
    • Numbness in your mouth and lips that doesn't go away.
    • An opening in your sinus cavity where the wisdom tooth was removed.
  • If a general anesthetic is used, there is a small risk of death or other problems.
Don't have your wisdom teeth removed Don't have your wisdom teeth removed
  • You take care of your teeth and have regular dental exams to check your wisdom teeth.
  • You avoid the risks of oral surgery.
  • You avoid the cost of oral surgery.
  • Your wisdom teeth may get impacted and could cause:
    • Pain, swelling, and an infection in your gums and jaw.
    • Damage to your other teeth, bones, and jaw.
    • A cyst.
  • If you wait until you're older to have your wisdom teeth removed, the surgery may be harder to do. And it may take longer for you to heal.

Personal stories

Are you interested in what others decided to do? Many people have faced this decision. These personal stories may help you decide.

Personal stories about having wisdom teeth removed

These stories are based on information gathered from health professionals and consumers. They may be helpful as you make important health decisions.

My dentist suggested that I have my wisdom teeth removed because already one of them is impacted. My parents and I agreed that the teeth should be removed, and I'm having it done now, while I am young.

Zach, age 17

My wisdom teeth came in when I was younger, but they haven't caused me any problems yet, so I am not having them removed. My dentist told me that few people older than 30 have problems with their wisdom teeth, and I don't want to deal with surgery unless I have to.

Suzanne, age 33

I had my wisdom teeth removed because they were not coming in straight. I felt it was best to take care of them then, rather than wait and take a chance that they would cause problems later on.

Shaila, 29

I am not having my wisdom teeth removed, because I can't afford it. I don't have insurance and don't have enough money for the procedure. I know that there is a chance that my wisdom teeth may cause problems later, but I hope that by then I will be able to afford the surgery. Besides, I don't want to have surgery unless I really need it. I will try to prevent any problems by going to my dentist regularly.

Nate, age 22

What matters most to you?

Your personal feelings are just as important as the medical facts. Think about what matters most to you in this decision, and show how you feel about the following statements.

Reasons to have your wisdom teeth removed

Reasons not to have your wisdom teeth removed

I'm not afraid to have my teeth pulled.

I don't want to have my teeth pulled unless I have to.

More important
Equally important
More important

I want to do whatever I can now to avoid problems with my wisdom teeth later on.

I want to wait and see if I have problems with my wisdom teeth before I decide to have them removed.

More important
Equally important
More important

I'm not worried about how much the oral surgery costs.

I don't have insurance, and I can't afford to pay for the oral surgery myself.

More important
Equally important
More important

My other important reasons:

My other important reasons:

More important
Equally important
More important

Where are you leaning now?

Now that you've thought about the facts and your feelings, you may have a general idea of where you stand on this decision. Show which way you are leaning right now.

Having my wisdom teeth removed

NOT having my wisdom teeth removed

Leaning toward
Undecided
Leaning toward

What else do you need to make your decision?

Check the facts

1.

If my wisdom teeth are impacted, I might need to have them removed.

  • TrueThat's right. Your dentist may recommend that you have your wisdom teeth removed if they cause pain or an infection, crowd other teeth, or get impacted and can't break through your gums.
  • FalseSorry, that's not right. Your dentist may recommend that you have your wisdom teeth removed if they cause pain or an infection, crowd other teeth, or get impacted and can't break through your gums.
  • I'm not sureIt may help to go back and read "Get the Facts." If your wisdom teeth cause pain or an infection, crowd other teeth, or get impacted, you might need to have them removed.
2.

It may be better to have my wisdom teeth removed when I'm younger than to wait and see if I have problems later on.

  • TrueThat's right. Some dentists think it's best to have impacted wisdom teeth removed before you're 20 years old, because it's easier to take them out when the roots and bones of your teeth are not fully formed.
  • FalseSorry, that's not right. Some dentists think it's best to have impacted wisdom teeth removed before you're 20 years old, because it's easier to take them out when the roots and bones of your teeth are not fully formed.
  • I'm not sureIt may help to go back and read "Get the Facts." It's easier to remove wisdom teeth when you're younger and the roots and bones of your teeth are not fully formed.

Decide what's next

1.

Do you understand the options available to you?

2.

Are you clear about which benefits and side effects matter most to you?

3.

Do you have enough support and advice from others to make a choice?

Certainty

1.

How sure do you feel right now about your decision?

Not sure at all
Somewhat sure
Very sure
3.

Use the following space to list questions, concerns, and next steps.

Your Summary

Here's a record of your answers. You can use it to talk with your doctor or loved ones about your decision.

Your decision 

Next steps

Which way you're leaning

How sure you are

Your comments

Your knowledge of the facts 

Key concepts that you understood

Key concepts that may need review

Getting ready to act 

Patient choices

Credits and References

Credits
Credits Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Arden Christen, DDS, MSD, MA, FACD - Dentistry

References
Citations
  1. Dodson TB, Susarla SM (2010). Impacted wisdom teeth, search date August 2009. Online version of BMJ Clinical Evidence: http://www.clinicalevidence.com.
  2. Macleod DK (2007). Common problems of the teeth and oral cavity. In NH Fiebach et al., eds., Principles of Ambulatory Medicine, 7th ed., pp. 1864–1878. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
You may want to have a say in this decision, or you may simply want to follow your doctor's recommendation. Either way, this information will help you understand what your choices are so that you can talk to your doctor about them.

Wisdom Teeth: Should I Have My Wisdom Teeth Removed?

Here's a record of your answers. You can use it to talk with your doctor or loved ones about your decision.
  1. Get the facts
  2. Compare your options
  3. What matters most to you?
  4. Where are you leaning now?
  5. What else do you need to make your decision?

1. Get the Facts

Your options

  • Have your wisdom teeth removed.
  • Don't have your wisdom teeth removed.

Key points to remember

  • Have your dentist check your wisdom teeth if you're 16 to 19 years old.
  • Your dentist may recommend that you have your wisdom teeth removed if they cause pain or an infection, crowd other teeth, or get stuck (impacted) and can't break through your gums.
  • Some dentists and oral surgeons think it's best to have impacted wisdom teeth removed (extracted) before you're 20 years old, because it's easier to take them out when the roots and bones of your teeth are softer and not fully formed. And when you're younger, you tend to heal faster.
  • You may never have any problems with your wisdom teeth, especially if you're already older than 30.
  • Wisdom teeth that are healthy and come in properly don't cause problems.
FAQs

What are wisdom teeth?

Wisdom teeth are the upper and lower third molars , located at the very back of your mouth. They are the last teeth to surface in the mouth. They are called wisdom teeth because they usually come in when a person is between 17 and 21 years old—old enough to have gained some "wisdom."

Some people have their wisdom teeth for their entire lives. Other people choose to have their wisdom teeth removed, sometimes before these teeth have broken through the gums.

What causes problems with wisdom teeth?

If your jaw is not big enough to make room for your wisdom teeth, they may get stuck (impacted) in your jaw and not be able to break through your gums. An impacted wisdom tooth can crowd other teeth and create painful, swollen, and infected flaps in your gums.

Wisdom teeth that have broken through your gums may cause cavities and gum disease, because they can be hard to clean.

Sometimes a cyst can form that can damage the bone or roots.

Most problems with wisdom teeth happen when a person is 15 to 25 years old. Few people older than 30 have problems with their wisdom teeth that require them to be removed.

Most dentists feel that if you're 16 to 19 years old, you should have your wisdom teeth looked at.

Some dentists and oral surgeons think it's best to have impacted wisdom teeth removed (extracted) before you're 20 years old, because it's easier to take them out when the roots and bones of your teeth are softer and not fully formed. As you get older, the bones around your teeth grow and get hard. This makes it harder to remove the teeth. And when you're older, it may take longer for you to heal after you have had them removed.

What are the risks of having your wisdom teeth removed?

After you have your wisdom teeth removed, you may have:

  • Pain and swelling in your gums and tooth socket where the tooth was removed.
  • Bleeding that won't stop for about 24 hours.
  • Problems or pain when you try to open your jaw. This is called trismus.
  • Slow-healing gums.
  • Damage to dental work, such as crowns or bridges, or to roots of a nearby tooth.
  • Dry socket, which causes pain and swelling and occurs when the blood clot that protects the open tooth socket is lost too soon.
  • Numbness in your mouth and lips after the local anesthetic wears off or because of an injury or swelling to the nerves in your jaw. Numbness usually goes away. But in rare cases, it may not.1
  • An opening into your sinus cavity if a wisdom tooth is removed from the upper jaw.

There is a small risk of death or other problems whenever a general anesthetic is used.

The decision to have your wisdom teeth removed if they're not impacted has to be weighed against the risks and benefits of having them removed.

What are the risks of NOT having your wisdom teeth removed?

Problems may occur if you don't have your wisdom teeth removed. For example:

  • When there isn't enough room in your mouth for your wisdom teeth to come in, they may get impacted and never break through your gums.
  • Your wisdom teeth may break through your gums only partway, causing a flap of gum tissue to grow over them. Food can get trapped under the flap and cause your gums to become red, swollen, and painful.2 These are signs of an infection.
  • One or more of your wisdom teeth may come in at the wrong angle. The top of the tooth may face forward, backward, or to either side.
  • Impacted teeth can cause infection and damage to your other teeth and bones. A fluid sac may form around an impacted tooth, and the sac may grow into a cyst. This could cause lasting damage to your nearby teeth, jaw, and bones.
  • Your risk of getting cavities and gum disease in the back of your mouth is higher if you keep your wisdom teeth, because it's hard to brush and floss that part of your mouth well. But if you visit your dentist once or twice a year, these problems can be found and treated early.
  • Your wisdom teeth may cause problems with future orthodontic treatment.

Why might your dentist recommend having your wisdom teeth removed?

Your dentist may suggest that you have your wisdom teeth removed if:

  • They cause pain or an infection.
  • They crowd other teeth.
  • They are impacted.

2. Compare your options

  Have your wisdom teeth removed Don't have your wisdom teeth removed
What is usually involved?
  • Your doctor will either numb your mouth or give you medicine that lets you sleep during the procedure.
  • An oral surgeon or your dentist will open the gums over the wisdom teeth, remove the teeth, and may close the gums with stitches, if needed.
  • Your stitches will be removed after a few days, if needed.
  • Most people recover in a few days.
  • You continue to take care of your teeth and have regular dental exams.
  • You take care of your teeth and have regular dental exams to check your wisdom teeth.
What are the benefits?
  • Having your wisdom teeth removed can help prevent:
    • Damage to your other teeth, bones, and jaw.
    • An infection.
    • Cavities and gum disease in the back of your mouth.
  • You avoid the risks of oral surgery.
  • You avoid the cost of oral surgery.
What are the risks and side effects?
  • Possible side effects include:
    • Pain.
    • Swelling.
    • Bleeding.
    • Infection.
    • Dry socket.
  • In rare cases, you may have:
    • Numbness in your mouth and lips that doesn't go away.
    • An opening in your sinus cavity where the wisdom tooth was removed.
  • If a general anesthetic is used, there is a small risk of death or other problems.
  • Your wisdom teeth may get impacted and could cause:
    • Pain, swelling, and an infection in your gums and jaw.
    • Damage to your other teeth, bones, and jaw.
    • A cyst.
  • If you wait until you're older to have your wisdom teeth removed, the surgery may be harder to do. And it may take longer for you to heal.

Personal stories

Are you interested in what others decided to do? Many people have faced this decision. These personal stories may help you decide.

Personal stories about having wisdom teeth removed

These stories are based on information gathered from health professionals and consumers. They may be helpful as you make important health decisions.

"My dentist suggested that I have my wisdom teeth removed because already one of them is impacted. My parents and I agreed that the teeth should be removed, and I'm having it done now, while I am young."

— Zach, age 17

"My wisdom teeth came in when I was younger, but they haven't caused me any problems yet, so I am not having them removed. My dentist told me that few people older than 30 have problems with their wisdom teeth, and I don't want to deal with surgery unless I have to."

— Suzanne, age 33

"I had my wisdom teeth removed because they were not coming in straight. I felt it was best to take care of them then, rather than wait and take a chance that they would cause problems later on."

— Shaila, 29

"I am not having my wisdom teeth removed, because I can't afford it. I don't have insurance and don't have enough money for the procedure. I know that there is a chance that my wisdom teeth may cause problems later, but I hope that by then I will be able to afford the surgery. Besides, I don't want to have surgery unless I really need it. I will try to prevent any problems by going to my dentist regularly."

— Nate, age 22

"I have had my wisdom teeth for many years, and they don't bother me. I have a hard time cleaning around them, though, and my dentist says my wisdom teeth and the teeth and gums right next to them are in danger of starting to have problems. I have diabetes that's pretty well controlled right now, so I'm going to have my wisdom teeth out now. My dentist said that if I wait until I have real damage to my teeth, my diabetes may be worse by then and I could have trouble healing up after the surgery."

— Rosa, age 42

3. What matters most to you?

Your personal feelings are just as important as the medical facts. Think about what matters most to you in this decision, and show how you feel about the following statements.

Reasons to have your wisdom teeth removed

Reasons not to have your wisdom teeth removed

I'm not afraid to have my teeth pulled.

I don't want to have my teeth pulled unless I have to.

             
More important
Equally important
More important

I want to do whatever I can now to avoid problems with my wisdom teeth later on.

I want to wait and see if I have problems with my wisdom teeth before I decide to have them removed.

             
More important
Equally important
More important

I'm not worried about how much the oral surgery costs.

I don't have insurance, and I can't afford to pay for the oral surgery myself.

             
More important
Equally important
More important

My other important reasons:

My other important reasons:

   
             
More important
Equally important
More important

4. Where are you leaning now?

Now that you've thought about the facts and your feelings, you may have a general idea of where you stand on this decision. Show which way you are leaning right now.

Having my wisdom teeth removed

NOT having my wisdom teeth removed

             
Leaning toward
Undecided
Leaning toward

5. What else do you need to make your decision?

Check the facts

1. If my wisdom teeth are impacted, I might need to have them removed.

  • True
  • False
  • I'm not sure
That's right. Your dentist may recommend that you have your wisdom teeth removed if they cause pain or an infection, crowd other teeth, or get impacted and can't break through your gums.

2. It may be better to have my wisdom teeth removed when I'm younger than to wait and see if I have problems later on.

  • True
  • False
  • I'm not sure
That's right. Some dentists think it's best to have impacted wisdom teeth removed before you're 20 years old, because it's easier to take them out when the roots and bones of your teeth are not fully formed.

Decide what's next

1. Do you understand the options available to you?

2. Are you clear about which benefits and side effects matter most to you?

3. Do you have enough support and advice from others to make a choice?

Certainty

1. How sure do you feel right now about your decision?

         
Not sure at all
Somewhat sure
Very sure

2. Check what you need to do before you make this decision.

  • I'm ready to take action.
  • I want to discuss the options with others.
  • I want to learn more about my options.

3. Use the following space to list questions, concerns, and next steps.

 
Credits
By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Arden Christen, DDS, MSD, MA, FACD - Dentistry

References
Citations
  1. Dodson TB, Susarla SM (2010). Impacted wisdom teeth, search date August 2009. Online version of BMJ Clinical Evidence: http://www.clinicalevidence.com.
  2. Macleod DK (2007). Common problems of the teeth and oral cavity. In NH Fiebach et al., eds., Principles of Ambulatory Medicine, 7th ed., pp. 1864–1878. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.

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