Between the ages of 17 and 21, most people get a third set of molars, also known as wisdom teeth. In some situations there may not be enough room for the teeth and they may not be able to fully erupt, or push past the gums. When wisdom teeth are impacted (stuck completely or partially below the gums), they may lead to future oral health issues such as tooth decay and gum disease.
Though it’s generally agreed that wisdom teeth should be removed if they are causing problems, such as infection, frequent pain, damage to adjacent teeth or other immediate difficulties, dentists debate about what to do when they aren’t causing issues. In an effort to prevent problems before they start, dentists may recommend wisdom teeth removal even before they cause any issues.
The recommendations of the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons support removal of wisdom teeth “with disease or at a high risk of developing disease,” so teeth that are currently a problem or very likely to be a problem should be taken care of sooner rather than later. However, they go on to state, “In the absence of disease or significant risk of disease, active clinical and radiographic surveillance is indicated.” Waiting to see how the teeth develop may result in less surgical trauma if extractions are eventually needed, or the teeth may never need to be removed at all. In either case, the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons recommends making a decision by age 25 or 26, so there is usually ample time to monitor and evaluate.