If all goes well, once your adult teeth erupt, you have 32 teeth — including wisdom teeth. However, in the United States, women and men aged 20-64 only have 25.5 teeth (on average). And 2% of them have no teeth left at all.
While your intention and hope may be to hold onto all your teeth for life, sometimes it’s best to extract a tooth to preserve your oral — and even general — health. Although extraction may be emotionally painful, it shouldn’t be physically painful, thanks to advances in sedation dentistry.
Addie Chang, DMD, is an expert dentist in Tukwila, Washington, who does everything possible to preserve your existing, natural teeth. However, sometimes you’re best served by an extraction. Do you need a tooth extracted? Following are four reasons why you might.
A damaged tooth is a dangerous tooth. Your mouth is filled with bacteria, especially right after eating and before brushing or flossing.
Once a tooth breaks or cracks, bacteria can pass into it, infecting the nerve-rich inner dentin and the root canals. A broken tooth could also injure the soft tissues in your mouth.
Sometimes your broken or cracked tooth can be salvaged with bonding or a dental crown. But Dr. Chang must remove it if it’s too damaged for repair.
Tooth decay starts with a cavity. If you visit the dentist in time, Dr. Chang can clean and disinfect the cavity, then protect your tooth with a filling. A large cavity, though, may not be repairable. Instead, Dr. Chang must remove it before the infection spreads to other teeth, root canals, gums, or the bloodstream.
When your teeth are misaligned, they may be overly crowded. Sometimes, you don’t have enough room in your mouth to straighten your teeth with braces or Invsalign®. Dr. Chang may need to remove your back molars to create space for your teeth to shift into new, healthier, and more attractive positions.
Few women and men have all 32 teeth in their mouths. That’s because the wisdom teeth — four molars in the very back of your mouth — won’t have enough room to grow and must be removed as soon as they erupt to avoid pain and infection.
Wisdom teeth are a relic from our evolutionary past when our jaws were larger, and we had to chew extremely fibrous raw foods. We no longer need our wisdom teeth, and, in most instances, we don’t have room to accommodate them.
When wisdom teeth try to erupt without enough space, they become stuck in your gums or impacted. You may see the tips of the molars trying to burst through, but they have nowhere to go. Dr. Chang recommends extracting your wisdom teeth to prevent infection and crowded teeth.
If you’re scheduled for major surgery, you may need to have any infected or decayed teeth removed before your procedure. An infection in your tooth could spread through your bloodstream and cause a dangerous, life-threatening condition called sepsis.
If you must have a tooth extracted due to decay, infection, or damage, replace it as soon as possible. Each tooth helps your other teeth maintain their positions so that your entire arch of teeth remains well-aligned. However, you don’t need to replace extracted wisdom teeth; you don’t have room for them, and they serve no purpose.
The most functional and aesthetic form of tooth replacement is a dental implant. Dental implants mimic the root of your tooth and have a single crown that looks just like a natural tooth. Whenever possible, we recommend implants as a first-line treatment for tooth replacement.