Risks of impacted or partially erupted wisdom teeth
The tooth that fails to fully erupt into the dental arch within the defined eruption age is deemed impacted. The average age for the eruption of wisdom teeth in the lower jaw is between 17 and 24 years. Levels of impaction vary - the tooth may be completely embedded in the bone, but sometimes it may be partially visible.
The impacted tooth may lead to certain pathological (diseased) conditions including 1) dental cavities in impacted tooth and/or adjacent molar tooth, 2) pericoronitis, 3) pericoronal abscess, 4) periodontal pocket, 5) cystic conditions, e.g. dentigerous cyst, 6) benign tumours, e.g. ameloblastoma.
Cavities form in the impacted tooth or adjacent molar because cleaning of the area is difficult due to the poor access. The soft tissue covering the impacted/partially erupted tooth is called the pericoronal tissue. The pericoronal tissues are at the risk of developing infections such as pericoronitis and pericoronal abscesses. These infections are often caused due to the food lodgement in the overlying gum of the wisdom tooth. Compromised oral hygiene practices in the wisdom tooth area also predispose to gum conditions such as periodontal pockets. In cases of tooth impaction or eruption failure, the dental follicle, which surrounds the erupting tooth, may develop into a cystic or benign tumour.
Although there are indications for the removal of impacted or partially erupted wisdom teeth because of these possible risks, there is no complete agreement among scientists for their removal where there is no evidence of problems. Most times, the dental radiographs help in detecting the above-mentioned dental and oral conditions. Periodic check-ups with your dentist may help in preventing the development of these conditions.
Regular check-ups will promote better dental and oral health.
Dr Arvind Babu Rajendra Santosh is an oral and maxillofacial pathologist. He lectures in the University of the West Indies - Mona Dentistry Programme.