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When wisdom teeth may need to be removed

NHS Choices Medical Reference

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Wisdom teeth usually only need to be removed if they don't come through properly and they are causing problems.

You may notice there is a problem with your wisdom teeth because you feel pain towards the back of your mouth. If this is the case, you should make an appointment to see a dentist.

However, some problems need removing even when they do not cause pain and may only be picked up during a routine dental check-up.

If your dentist thinks you may need your wisdom teeth removing, they will usually carry out an  X-ray of your mouth. This helps give them a clearer view of the position of your teeth.

Dental problems

If your wisdom teeth have only partially grown through, food and bacteria can get trapped under the edge of the gum, around the tooth. This can also happen if your wisdom teeth come through properly, but because they are at the back of your mouth they are difficult to clean with a toothbrush.

If food particles and bacteria get trapped around your wisdom teeth, this can lead to a build-up of plaque.

Plaque is a sticky film formed when bacteria in your mouth combine with acid, saliva and small particles of food left after brushing. If plaque isn't removed it can lead to a number of dental problems:

  • Tooth decay (dental caries) - develops when plaque begins to break down the surface of your tooth. When tooth decay becomes more advanced it leaves holes (cavities) in the tooth which can affect the surrounding teeth.  
  • Gum disease (also called gingivitis or periodontal disease) -  happens when plaque releases toxins (poisons) that irritate your gums, making them red, swollen and painful. Gum disease can also affect the surrounding teeth and the bone around the wisdom teeth.
  • Pericoronitis -  plaque causes an infection of the soft tissue that surrounds the tooth.
  • Cellulitis - a bacterial infection in the cheek, tongue or throat.
  • Osteomyelitis - an infection inside the bone of your jaw.
  • Abscess - pus collects in your wisdom teeth or the surrounding tissue as a result of a bacterial infection.
  • Cysts and benign growths - very rarely, a wisdom tooth that hasn't cut through the gum develops a cyst (a fluid-filled swelling).

Many of these problems can be treated with treatments, such as  antibiotics  and antiseptic mouthwash, so removing your wisdom teeth is only recommended when other treatments haven't worked.

Read more about how wisdom teeth are removed.

Medical Review: June 02, 2013

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