Most people will have at least one cavity in their lifetimes, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 30 percent of adults between age 20 and 44 have an untreated cavity. A good number of those cavities are likely to occur on the wisdom teeth, which are called such because they tend to erupt later in life than the rest of the permanent teeth—somewhere between age 17 and 25.
The Problematic Third Molar
Wisdom teeth—or third molars as they are also known—are considered by some scientists to be vestigial, meaning that they were necessary to our ancestors but not to us. In dental science, whether or not wisdom teeth are actually vestigial is a matter of some debate, but what is recognized is that wisdom teeth tend to be problematic and are often extracted to avoid those problems.
A study published in the Journal of Dental Research found that more than 22 percent of people do not have their wisdom teeth—either because they never developed or were extracted. In fact, a study published in the Dental Press Journal of Orthodontics found that dentists recommend extractions in 59 percent of patients. That makes third molar extraction the most common oral surgery, and the American Public Health Association estimates that Americans have 10 million wisdom teeth extracted each year.
The leading reason dentists recommend wisdom teeth extraction is that many people simply do not have enough space on the jawbone for them. The aforementioned JDR paper found that when wisdom teeth erupt and are not extracted, impaction occurs in 24 percent of people.
Impacted wisdom teeth can cause problems with nearby teeth that would otherwise be healthy. According to the American Dental Association, teeth that are impacted are also more prone to cavities. These teeth are stuck in bone or gum tissue and often at irregular angles. This allows for areas where food particles are easily trapped but are not so easy to clean by brushing, flossing, and rinsing.
What to Do About a Third Molar Cavity
In most cases involving a cavity, a dentist will recommend doing whatever is possible to save the tooth, including root canal therapy. This is not the case with wisdom teeth. Your dentist is much more inclined to recommend extraction, and a study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association found that cavities are the motivation behind 15 percent of all wisdom teeth extractions.
If your wisdom tooth is stuck in the bone or gums, there may be no recourse other than to extract it. If, on the other hand, your wisdom tooth has erupted and there is enough space for it, then it is possible to save the wisdom tooth just as your dentist could with any other tooth. Wisdom teeth are another reason why it so important to visit your dentist for regular checkups. Your dentist can monitor the third molars prior to eruption and even identify and correct potential problems before they actually manifest.
To Keep or Not to Keep Your Wisdom Teeth
If your wisdom teeth have not arrived yet, your dentist will monitor them for potential issues and may at some point recommend extracting them as a precautionary measure. If your wisdom teeth have erupted and are healthy, and there is enough space for them, there is generally no reason to extract them.
If a wisdom tooth is impacted, extraction is usually the appropriate measure in order to avoid future complications. If a wisdom tooth has a cavity, then the answer depends. You will need to discuss it with your dentist. Your dentist may assess the tooth and determine extraction is best to avoid oral health issues in the future. If future health is not an issue, then you will need to decide. Extraction is certainly the more economical option, whereas restoration of a wisdom tooth might be quite expensive.
Enjoy a Healthy and Pain-Free Smile
Are you experiencing problems with your wisdom teeth, or have they not erupted yet? Jeffrey D. Clark, DDS, is a leading dentist in Arizona who can examine your third molars. Dr. Clark can then discuss your oral health with you, explore your treatment options, and help you make the best decision for you. Call Scottsdale Dental Excellence at 480 585 1853 to schedule your appointment.