All about Wisdom Teeth

In Dental Health by Dr. Mathew Palmer

Teeth develop in stages from childhood to adulthood: first incisors, then canines, premolars and molars and, eventually, wisdom teeth. Often the latter are the most fascinating. Most people with wisdom teeth may not experience a single problem, but in others, they can cause pain, infection, and other discomfort.

What are they exactly?

Wisdom teeth do not make you smarter. They’re named because they usually come in at an older age, from 17-21 years old. Dentists call them the third molars, and they appear at the back of the mouth. When part of a full package of 32 adult teeth, you get two on top and two on the bottom.

Are wisdom teeth on the way out? 

Wisdom teeth, once crucial for an early human diet of roots, leaves, meat, and nuts, are no longer essential. Today human beings cook food to soften it, and with utensils, we can cut and into small pieces and break them down further with our other teeth.

Anthropologists believe that human beings have evolved past the need for wisdom teeth, so some people may never get any. Wisdom teeth may go the appendix’s way and become unnecessary altogether. Many researchers would not be shocked if someday nobody had any more wisdom teeth.

Nonetheless, genetics allow most adults to grow their own. One survey found that at least 53 percent of people had developed at least one wisdom tooth.

Wisdom teeth can still exist below the gums’ surface. They sometimes don’t break out and become visible. Whether you have wisdom teeth under your gums, an X-ray may confirm this for you.

Common wisdom teeth issues

Here are some ways in which you may experience problems with your wisdom teeth:

  • Wisdom teeth that are not in the right position will cause food to get stuck. This is an ideal environment for cavity-causing bacteria to develop.
  • Wisdom teeth that have not entirely come in can make it difficult to floss between teeth.
  • Wisdom teeth that have not come through can provide a place for bacteria to invade the gums, and create a place for infection. This can cause pain, swelling, and stiffness in your jaw, too.
  • Wisdom teeth that have no room to pass can sometimes crowd or damage neighboring teeth.
  • A wisdom tooth may also develop a cyst on or near to the impacted tooth. This might damage nearby teeth’s roots, or break the bone that supports your teeth.

Times when you need to get rid of them

There are cases where it is necessary to remove wisdom teeth. In general, wisdom teeth should be removed surgically when there are:

  • Infections and periodontal (gum) disease: Often, the location of the wisdom tooth causes deep periodontal cracks, gum disease or decay around the adjacent tooth, and should be removed before too much damage is done to the second molars.
  • Cavities which cannot be restored: Such treatments recommended for the rest of the teeth are often less effective in treating wisdom teeth because of their location at the back of the mouth.
  • Extensive damage to nearby teeth: If there is insufficient space in the mouth for wisdom teeth and they seek to erupt, the severe strain on the surrounding teeth and tissues may be caused. This pressure can lead to a bad headache, jaw pain/stiffness, or tooth pain, which can only be healed by extracting the wisdom teeth.

Since most people end up surgically extracting these teeth, work is underway to find ways to avoid their growth altogether. This would certainly save you a visit to the dentist. You may or may not even realize that you need to remove your wisdom teeth. Some people feel discomfort or annoyance; some don’t feel anything at all. Visiting us for a check-up is the only way you’ll find out.

If you get pain or discomfort from your wisdom teeth, come and visit us. Early treatment dramatically reduces your risk of even more significant problems.