My son just had his wisdom teeth removed. Lots of pre-surgery angst (How long is the surgery? Will it hurt? How long will it take to heal?) and stress (What to eat? How much missed school?). No worries…I got through it.

As a parent, I'm done with my son's dental braces (√) and wisdom teeth extraction (√).  As an adolescent medicine physician, I'm not done.  I often see teens who have unresolved orthodontic issues or who are experiencing mouth pain or headaches due to wisdom teeth impaction.

Dental braces. Orthodontists use dental braces to correct the position of teeth. Many people who need dental braces get them during their early teenage years. The goal of dental braces is to properly align the teeth and improve not only the appearance of the teeth, but also the way a person bites, chews and speaks.

Dental braces offer corrective treatment for:

  • Overcrowded or crooked teeth

  • Too much space between teeth

  • Upper front teeth that overlap the lower teeth too much

  • Upper front teeth that bite behind the lower ones

Dental braces usually remain on for six months to two years. After the braces are taken off, removable retainers are worn according to a prescribed schedule. Wearing braces is generally very safe. However, as with any procedure, there are potential risks including gum disease and cavities due to bacteria that gather in spaces caused by the braces.

Wisdom teeth extraction. Wisdom teeth, or third molars, are located in the back of the mouth and usually start to emerge between ages 17-25.  They are the last adult teeth to erupt. Most people have four wisdom teeth — two on the top and two on the bottom. A panoramic X-ray done during adolescence assesses the presence, development and position of the wisdom teeth.

Wisdom teeth become impacted when they don't have enough room to emerge or grow normally. The following signs or symptoms may develop with impaction:

  • Painful, swollen or bleeding gums

  • Swelling around the jaw

  • Halitosis (bad breath)

  • Unpleasant taste

  • Headache

Dentists recommend removing a teenager's wisdom teeth if they are impacted. In addition, because the third molars are in the back of the mouth and may be difficult to clean, some dentists suggest removing them if they are at risk for tooth decay and gum disease. Most wisdom teeth extractions are uneventful. Rarely, however, problems may occur, such as:

  • Dry socket, or exposure of bone when the post-surgical blood clot is dislodged from the site of the surgical wound (socket)

  • Infection in the socket from bacteria or trapped food particles

Bottom line: Teenagers need to have regular dental check-ups not only to have their teeth cleaned and to be checked for cavities and gum disease but also to evaluate for orthodontic issues and wisdom teeth impaction. These common dental issues may be bumps in the road for teens (and their parents!) but it's all good when you see their beautiful smiles.

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