Dr. Greg Jorgensen
(505) 891-9440
1401 Barbara Loop SE
Rio Rancho, NM 87124

The Jorgensen Orthodontics Blog

Do All Wisdom Teeth Need to Be Removed?

Posted by Dr. Jorgensen on April 5th, 2011

It seems that getting your wisdom teeth removed is just a “rite of passage.” But is it true that all wisdom teeth have to be removed?

Although some people are born without wisdom teeth (and some have extras), most of us have four. Officially known as “third molars,” wisdom teeth become visible in x-rays between 10 and 15 years of age and become a concern around the time we graduate from high school (age 17). Some patients become aware of their wisdom teeth because they hurt, but most find out they have them from their dentist as he (or she) evaluates their x-rays during a routine examination.

Around 90% of Americans have their wisdom teeth removed, but why? Is it because they make the other teeth crooked? That question was the topic of another article I authored entitled “Do Wisdom Teeth Make Your Teeth Crooked?” The take-home-message of that articles was that while wisdom teeth may be a factor, there are other things that are probably more to blame. So what are legitimate reasons to have your wisdom teeth removed?

The #1 reason that wisdom teeth need to be removed is that there just isn’t enough room. This usually causes them to remain fully or partially unerupted. If the wisdom teeth remain trapped deep in the bone, they are referred to as “impacted.” Your oral surgeon will discuss the pros and cons of going after teeth in this position (there are important nerves in that area). If they are visible in the mouth but don’t have enough room to come in all the way, they are classified as partially impacted. Partially impacted wisdom teeth almost always need to be removed. Because they cannot be cared for properly, they are more susceptible to decay and gum disease. Since they are closer to the surface than fully impacted wisdom teeth, they are easier to remove and there is less risk of damage to the underlying nerves.

The #2 reason that wisdom teeth are removed is because they are difficult to care for. If a patient has decay or gum disease associated with their wisdom teeth, the dentist will usually just recommend removing them. Not only are they hard for the patient to take care, they are equally hard for the dentist to restore. Removal of wisdom teeth in this condition is usually the best option even if there is sufficient space.

So when is it OK to keep your wisdom teeth? The answer is simple. You can keep them if they have plenty of room and are healthy. Even though most wisdom teeth DO end up needing to be removed, the reason should not be that they are causing the rest of your teeth to get crooked.

NOTE: The author, Dr. Greg Jorgensen, is a board-certified orthodontist who is in the private practice of orthodontics in Rio Rancho, New Mexico (a suburb on the Westside of Albuquerque). He was trained at BYU, Washington University in St. Louis, and the University of Iowa in the United States. Dr. Jorgensen’s 25 years of specialty practice and nearly 10,000 finished cases qualify him an expert in two-phase treatment, extraction and non-extraction therapy, functional orthodontics, clear aligners (Invisalign), and multiple bracket systems (including conventional braces, Damon and other self-ligating brackets, Suresmile, and lingual braces). This blog is for informational purposes only and is designed to help consumers understand currently accepted orthodontic concepts. It is not a venue for debating alternative treatment theories. Dr. Jorgensen is licensed to diagnose and treat patients only in the state of New Mexico. He cannot diagnose cases described in comments nor can he select treatment plans for readers. Please understand that because he has tens of thousands of readers each month, IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR HIM TO RESPOND TO EVERY QUESTION. Please read all of the comments associated with each article as most of the questions he receives each week have been asked and answered previously. The opinions expressed here are protected by copyright laws and can only be used with written permission from the author.

161 comments so far in response to “Do All Wisdom Teeth Need to Be Removed?”

  1. Ez says:

    My mom is making me get them out at the age of 12 is that safe?

  2. Ghiera garcia says:

    Doc I need urgent help,

    I removed my two bottom impacted wisdom tooth, I want to ask if it’s necessary to remove the two upper wisdom as well? If I opt not to remove it, will it move my upper set of teeth?

    • Everyone is different. In normal circumstances both upper and lower wisdom teeth are removed at the same time because they are a set. If your bottom ones are removed, the top ones may eventually come in and not have anything to bite against. Don’t worry about them moving your upper teeth as long as you are wearing your retainer.

  3. Angie Evangelista says:

    Hi Doc, I would like to ask a second opinion regarding my Third molar, my dentist told me that she needs to remove my third molar up and down. But I don’t think it’s not necessary because based on my x-ray my third molar is in the right position which is standing. Can you please explain why did my dentist suggest me to remove it? Thanks

    • Third molars should be removed if they are unhealthy or there is not room for them to fully erupt. If your jaws are not big enough for the third molars to come in all the way so that they can be cared for, they will probably need to be removed. If they are fully erupted, have room, can be cleaned, and are healthy, there really is no reason to remove them.

  4. julia says:

    do I have to have to get my wisdom teeth pulled out if it doesn’t hurt and does not damage any of my teeth and foes not give me any symptoms?

    • I have covered most of the issues with wisdom teeth in my article, but the only way to know about your own situation for sure is to get a consultation with a local oral surgeon who can get an x-ray and give you personal advice. Good luck!

  5. Shai says:

    Hi doc..I need your help.Urgent….uhm is it okay not to remove my wisdom teeth?I’m about to have my braces but my dentist told me that he has to remove my wisdom teeth.My mom was scared because it might affect other nerves like my eyes.I also have an eyesight problem so my mom said not to continue in having my braces.But I want to have braces because I don’t like my teeth.Is it okay not to remove my wisdom teeth? Thank you so much..

    • I can’t give you specific advice, but MILLIONS of us have had our wisdom teeth removed with absolutely no side effects at all. The problems your mom is afraid of may have happened in very rare cases, but they are not common at all. You and your orthodontist need to discuss this for you specifically. He probably wouldn’t have recommended removal if it wasn’t necessary

  6. Monica says:

    I need to have my bottom right wisdom took extracted do I also need to have the top right one extracted as well, or is it ok that I only extract one?

    • Every one is different and you should discuss this with your local doctor. If a lower wisdom tooth is removed, the corresponding one in the upper arch will not have a tooth in “opposition” to bite against should it ever erupt all of the way. By removing just the lower, you may just be putting off the inevitable need for the removal of the top one

  7. Sarah Jackson says:

    Hi Dr. Jorgensen,

    I am considering removing my bottom wisdom tooth due to the gum surrounding it in a way that I cannot fully clean it I am also getting the one right above it removed because in essence they are a “pair” My question is what about my other “pair” of wisdoms on the other side? Will I be ok just removing the left side and never the right? Or will one day they tell me the other two need to be removed for something?

    • These are questions for an oral surgeon. You’ll get your best information from a local doctor who can examine you. The content of my article is valid for one or multiple wisdom teeth however. If they are healthy and have room, they may not need to be removed.

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