Wisdom teeth are referred to as such because they develop later than other teeth, when a person has supposedly acquired more wisdom in life. However, they could also be called extra teeth, superfluous teeth or unnecessary teeth. Clinically, they're called your third molar, or M3. But since the M3 is extra, superfluous or unnecessary—shouldn't it just be extracted at the first sign of trouble? It's not as though the tooth would ever have to be restored with root canal treatment, would it?

Posterior Teeth

Molars are posterior teeth because they're located towards the rear (posterior) of your dental arch. Those without wisdom teeth have eight molars—two at each of the posterior positions of your upper and lower dental arches, for a total of eight. Wisdom teeth are often removed because they fail to fully erupt from the gum line, making the tooth and surrounding tissues more susceptible to decay and infection. There can also be inadequate space in the dental arch for a third molar, with its eruption causing the other teeth to become misaligned. But for some people, there are no eruption or spacing issues, meaning that their M3 is a perfectly functional molar.

Fully Functional

Root canal treatments on your M3 are only considered when the tooth is fully functional, and when the procedure is thought to have a good chance of success—which isn't always a given with root canals on wisdom teeth. The most straightforward treatment is when a tooth has relatively straight roots, allowing the dentist to comprehensively remove the tooth's inflamed pulp (which is the reason for the root canal), before cleaning and filling the empty pulp chamber. This process isn't always so simple with wisdom teeth.

A Wisdom Tooth's Roots

A molar has several roots, and with wisdom teeth, these roots can often be fused together. Alternatively, they can be widely spaced, and branch off in unexpected directions. An x-ray will be performed to chart the wisdom tooth's root structure. If this structure is too complex, then extraction may be recommended, regardless of the functionality of your M3. But if the root structure's configuration means that a root canal has a good chance of success, then the procedure can be performed, sparing you from the need for tooth extraction, and allowing you to retain the use of your M3.

Root canal treatment on wisdom teeth is performed on a case-by-case basis. If the tooth is functional and has a root structure that allows a successful root canal, then the goal will be to save the tooth rather than extract it

For more information on root canal treatment, contact a professional near you.