Dental Education Lecture: Contact Sports and Wisdom Tooth

When your kid participates contact sports, we need to extract wisdom teeth even though they do not cause any problems.  Why?  As we mention previously, our jaws have become smaller as we evolve so that wisdom teeth have no much space to erupt.  They remain in the jaw, the condition we call impaction.  The root of the impacted wisdom teeth keep growing to make the angle of the mandible (the back part of the lower jaw) weak and small.  What is the angle of the mandible as related to the wisdom tooth?  We need pictures to show the point.  Fig. A is X-ray showing the back part of the lower jaw.  Fig. B is an illustration corresponding to Fig. A.  The shaded area is the back part of the mandible (lower jaw).  #1,2,3 are the 1st, 2nd and 3rd (lower) molars.  The 3rd molar is also called wisdom tooth.  In this case the wisdom tooth has a long root.  An arrowhead points to the angle of the mandible.  Let us draw a line from the root tip of  the 3rd molar to the angle of the mandible (Fig. C).

When the wisdom tooth is impacted, the bone around the angle of the mandible is thin and narrow.  It is easily broken (Fig. D, a crack along the 3rd molar) if the mandible sustains a blow during contact sports. Scientific studies show that the chance of fractures occurring in the mandibular angle increases over 2 fold in comparison with patients that do not present third molars. Ninety-seven percent of mandibular angle fractures were associated with the presence of third mandibular molars. To prevent this type of jaw fracture, we should routinely extract the wisdom tooth (Fig. E).  When the wound heals, the angle of the mandible becomes wider and stronger (Fig. F, the line as compared to that in Fig. C).  Your kid has much less chance of jaw fracture while they enjoy the game.

Even if your kids is not involved with active sport events, we may need to take out seemingly harmless wisdom teeth.  We will talk about this next.

Xin Wei, DDS, PhD, MS 1st edition 01/17/2009, last revision 12/25/2010