There’s a popular adage that says, “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong—at the worst possible moment.” This is certainly the case when it comes to college students and their wisdom teeth.
Dentists’ and Oral Surgeons’ phones ring all too often with a frantic parent saying, “My son/daughter is away at college and he/she has terrible pain and swelling in the back of their mouth. What should we do?” Well, we’d love to tell them to rush right over, but that’s hard to do when they’re hundreds or even thousands of miles away.
In this scenario, the young person is often suffering from an acute flare of wisdom tooth pain. Wisdom teeth are the four molars farthest back in the corners of our mouths. Generally breaking through the gums between the ages of 17 and 25, they can (and often do) cause considerable discomfort and infection. When there isn’t sufficient room for them to emerge unimpeded they are said to be impacted. Possible complications from impacted wisdom teeth may include: acute or chronic discomfort; abscess of the tooth or gums; infection; bite issues which cause improper contact between the upper and lower teeth; and excessive buildup of plaque trapped in the crowded spaces between the teeth and gums, leading to decay and/ or gum disease.
More serious complications may occur if the sac surrounding an untreated, impacted tooth becomes filled with fluid and enlarges to form a cyst. As the cyst grows, it may erode the surrounding bone and jeopardize the stability and health of the adjacent teeth, bone and nerves. If left untreated, the cyst could possibly develop into a tumor, requiring even more aggressive treatment.
In general, impacted wisdom teeth that cause pain, infection, or bite problems are usually removed. But not all problems are painful or visible. Even wisdom teeth that cause no apparent or immediate problems are particularly vulnerable to disease. In fact, the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons and the Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Foundation have found that even those wisdom teeth which have grown into the mouth in a normal, upright position may be as prone to disease as those that are impacted! Moreover, the older we get, the more prone they are to disease, and the more difficult they are to remove.
Simply put, it isn’t wise to wait until your wisdom teeth start to bother you to seek dental advice and evaluation. This is especially true for college students who are far from home, with limited resources, no access to the trusted family dentist, and no parental companionship. In this worstcase scenario, both the student and the parents are subjected to undo additional stress and discomfort.
Ensure your student doesn’t suddenly find himself or herself in a dental emergency far from home and all alone. Call a trusted, highly qualified dental professional right now—while they’re home for the summer!—to schedule a complete evaluation. And while you’re at it, schedule an evaluation for yourself, as well. The wisest approach is always the proactive approach!