Wisdom teeth: Should they stay or go?

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Jeff Andrejcik
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
Some people get emotional and cry for no reason; some snore as if they were in a deep sleep; some even talk about football.

These were all real life reactions caused by the lingering effects of being sedated during wisdom teeth extraction, according to Capt. Jeff Larkin, 1st Special Operations Dental Squadron general clinical dentist.

For Larkin, seeing people respond this way is pretty typical and most people don't remember a thing.

Larkin said he's also seen some uncommon wisdom teeth cases.

"Most people only have four wisdom teeth in their mouth," he said. "However, I once removed eight."

He said it was a unique situation, only one case out of the nearly 300 people he has operated on.

Larkin said wisdom teeth extractions are necessary for several reasons.

"Some people have enough room for [wisdom teeth] but most people don't," Larkin said. "When you don't have enough room, they come in crooked, sideways, tilted and not cleansable."

If teeth do not come in straight up and down, erupted all the way through the gums, it can cause pericoronitis, according to Larkin. This infection occurs when gums partially cover the teeth, leaving pockets, which can fill with bacteria or plaque.

It's one of the only life threatening conditions in dentistry, Larkin said.

"Pericoronitis can lead to space infections," he said. "Spaces under your tongue and between the muscles could swell up and make breathing difficult."

Larkin said this is one of the biggest concerns for deployed members who haven't had their wisdom teeth removed.

"When you're out in the field, nowhere near a place that can remove wisdom teeth, they can be a threat to your airway," he said.

Still, the decision to have wisdom teeth removed falls on each patient.

According to Sherod Jones, 1st SODS technician, he and Larkin see about ten patients a week for wisdom teeth extractions.

Each patient gets a consultation with the dentist before they decide to have the surgery, Jones said.

When determining whether or not to get wisdom teeth extracted, the available space in your mouth is usually a deciding factor, said Larkin.

"For some people, they erupt in normal position; they can chew on them, keep them clean and they're fine, but it's definitely not the norm," he said.

Sometimes people are at ease and trust his opinion to move forward with the surgery. On the other hand, Larkin said some people are very nervous to have surgery done at all, and will do anything to avoid it.

"With anything in life, people tend to focus on the negative," he said. However, "we don't enjoy putting people in pain, we like taking them out of pain."

Bottomline: "Trust your dentist," Larkin said.