One common question orthodontists get from parents of teens and preteens is whether it’s best to wait to start braces until a kid’s wisdom teeth have come in. The concern some parents have is that if you get braces for your kids before their wisdom teeth come in, the wisdom teeth could erupt and mess up all those pretty teeth. However, many kids won’t get their wisdom teeth until early college years. Very few kids with crooked teeth or bite problems want to wait until then to start treatment. For a full understanding of this issue, let’s take a look at ways that wisdom teeth could impact orthodontic treatment.

4 ways wisdom teeth can create problems.
4 ways wisdom teeth can create problems.

Possible problems with wisdom teeth coming in include the following:

  • If wisdom teeth are only partially emerged, a flap of skin can form that is partially covering the wisdom teeth that can trap food and cause infection of the gums.
  • If there is not enough room for your wisdom teeth, they might become impacted beneath the surface (stuck in your jaws and gums so that they can’t break through the surface of your gums).
  • If your wisdom teeth are impacted, painful cysts can form which can cause infection and decay to surrounding tooth roots.
  • If it’s crowded in the back of your mouth, the wisdom teeth might come in at an awkward angle.  It can rub painfully against your cheek.
  • The risk of tooth decay and gum disease can increase if your wisdom teeth emerge, or come in partially.

Are Wisdom Teeth a Problem for Everyone?

Wisdom teeth emerge in the late teen or early 20s for most people, although some 12-14 year olds might get them early. Some people experience no problems with having this extra set of molars come in. However, most do. The most common problem with wisdom teeth and braces is that the majority of patients don’t have enough room for these teeth to come in. Most mouths are simply too crowded already with other teeth for this final set of molars to emerge. Crowding can worsen crooked teeth or can even push straight teeth out of place.

Wearing a retainer (if you’ve already had braces) and scheduling an appointment at the first sign of your wisdom teeth coming in is your best bet to avoiding this problem. Even if you have room for your wisdom teeth to come in, they may be so far back in the mouth that it’s hard to properly brush and floss them. This is a leading cause of oral decay and gum disease in the back of the mouth. Regular visits to your dentist should include periodic x-rays during the teen years to check the positioning of the wisdom teeth and determine whether they’ll create problems later on.

Should you wait to put braces on your teen? Here are some things to keep in mind that can help you make your decision.

  • Wisdom teeth don’t emerge until age 17-21, on average. If you wait until your teen’s wisdom teeth come in, it can make orthodontic treatment significantly more complicated. So, it’s almost always better to start when younger.  There are many orthodontic conditions that if addressed when a child is younger can be fixed relatively easily.  Yet, correcting these same orthodontic conditions in an adult would require surgery.
  • In addition, they will start braces and college at about the same time.  This can interfere with treatment plans and make selecting an orthodontist difficult. Your teen will probably be moving around after high school. Most orthodontists charge a set price for the entire treatment. If you switch orthodontists during treatment (when your teen starts college in a different city or state), you might have to pay all over again. Furthermore, for some patients who wait until the early 20s to start braces, this could even prolong treatment.
  • Overcrowding problems can usually be diagnosed early on, long before the wisdom teeth erupt. Once they’re close enough to the surface, they can be extracted by an oral surgeon if necessary.
  • You can have wisdom teeth removed while wearing braces. So, even if they start to come in during treatment, you can still take care of them. It won’t even interrupt your orthodontic treatment.
  • Some people don’t need their wisdom teeth extracted. If there are no problems with your wisdom teeth (and most orthodontists can determine this by the time your teen is in the early teen years), then wisdom teeth won’t cause any problems.
  • Once your braces are off, wear your retainer every night. Wearing your retainer will keep your teeth straight, as long as you wear it on a daily basis as instructed. If you notice it getting tight or you feel pressure in the back of your mouth, schedule a visit. Your orthodontist can determine whether your wisdom teeth are coming in.

Bottom Line

The bottom line is that for most teens, the disadvantages of waiting until after high school to start braces far outweigh the advantages of waiting until the wisdom teeth have come in. Most teens (and their parents) prefer to pay for braces in junior high or high school and drive kids to appointments during these years. Waiting longer can actually make treatment take longer, since some orthodontic issues are easier to correct in the teen years. If you get all the way through braces and still haven’t seen a peep from those wisdom teeth, you’re lucky but not out of the water. There are some people who never get wisdom teeth, but this is fairly rare. Most likely, you’ll still get them in a few years.

Remember, your orthodontist can take x-rays at any time. They can determine whether your wisdom teeth will create overcrowding or other problems, and give you recommendations for treatment. At Dunn Orthodontics, we’ve been helping create happy smiles in the Phoenix area for over 10 years. We have three convenient locations in Litchfield Park, Phoenix, and Arcadia. Contact us to schedule a complimentary consultation and find out what braces could do for your smile.

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