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My dentist wants to remove my 13-year-old daughter’s wisdom teeth. Isn’t that a little young?

By: Sarah Mahoney

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Not really, says T. Bob Davis, a dental surgeon and the spokesman for the Academy of General Dentistry. Wisdom teeth normally don’t break through the gums until about the ages of 17 to 25, but your dentist will likely start assessing your child when she’s 13. And if it seems likely that the wisdom teeth -- or third molars, as they are clinically called -- will crowd other teeth or cause problems (dentists can predict this using dental X-rays), the sooner they are extracted, the better for your child’s oral health, says Davis.

“It’s easier on both dentists and patients to remove the teeth when the roots are still soft and not fully formed, and younger people heal better,” adds Davis. (He likes to remove the lower set of wisdom teeth in one procedure, at age 14 or 15, followed by the upper set in a separate procedure the following year.) “There’s no point in making a child wait -- it just gets harder as the roots calcify.”

But as common as the procedure is, Davis warns that two things are likely to be different for your child than they were when you were a teen:

  • Don’t expect general anesthesia. Patients who have general anesthesia -- as opposed to sedation and local anesthesia -- heal more slowly. What’s more, a recent study found that patients who are given general anesthesia are more likely to develop infections -- and that their infections are more severe -- than those who are given local anesthesia.
  • Don’t expect a “knockout” pain medication. These days, dentists are less likely to prescribe heavy-duty pain pills.  Painkillers such as Vicodin are among the most abused drugs, “and it’s better not to introduce it to kids who are in their teens,” he says, “especially since we now know we can manage pain so much more effectively, alternating ibuprofen (even before the procedure) with less addictive types of painkillers.” But each case is different. If you’re concerned your child is not getting enough pain relief (or worried that it’s too much), talk to your dentist.

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/skynesher

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Sarah Mahoney is the managing editor of Oral Care and Health Daily. A health editor and reporter, she also contributes to Good Housekeeping, Parents and Prevention.

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