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In a crowded mouth, molars get squeezed

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Date published: 8/8/2010


Twenty-four years ago, Jill Cabana witnessed a friend suffer intense pain from wisdom tooth removal.

Cabana said her friend had all four wisdom teeth taken out at once and spent days unable to chew food or sleep through the night, even with pain medication.

So when Cabana's dentist recommended she have her wisdom teeth removed, she resolved to have only two out at a time. She had her first two taken out at 19, and besides some residual pain, she was surprised at how well the procedure went.

Yet twenty years later, the Spotsylvania County resident still hasn't gotten the other two removed.

"I don't have too much trouble with them," she said, adding that she's still nervous about the idea of getting the rest taken out.

Fear of the procedure is common, but Dr. Cathie Butterworth of the Fredericksburg Smile Center said the chances of having severe side effects from the surgery are slim--only about 5 percent, "if you follow all the directions."


While the side effects aren't likely to last long, the consequences of not removing wisdom teeth when a dentist recommends it can be severe and permanent.

"The wisdom teeth can push up against the back of the second molars and cause decay," Butterworth said.

In addition, poorly placed or only partially grown-in wisdom teeth can cause gum inflammation and infection, toothaches and teeth crowding, and in some extreme cases, cysts and tumors. Problems are especially likely to appear when the teeth are impacted--meaning not fully grown in. This often happens when there's simply not space in the mouth for extra teeth.

"If there's not room for the wisdom teeth, it is best to have them extracted," Butterworth said.

The molars usually start growing in during the teen years, and Butterworth said she usually recommends removal to patients who are between 16 and 25. She said it is generally best to extract them as they come in--or right before or after--to head off problems.


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