Wisdom Teeth

Wisdom teeth are often the loose cannon of the dental world, wreaking all sorts of havoc in the dark, deep recesses of our mouths. Although we no longer need this third and final set of molars, most people still get them, and they often bring a host of problems.

If wisdom teeth issues are allowed to develop, removing these teeth as you get older can become a problem. Although wisdom teeth start to form around the age of 10, they typically appear much later than other teeth, when we’re 17 to 25. Many linguists believe wisdom teeth are so called because they arrive at a time when a person acquires wisdom with maturity into adulthood.

Anthropologists think wisdom teeth were the evolutionary solution to cope with the diet of our early ancestors food like nuts and roots, and raw meat, which require strong chewing force. Our modern diet, with its softer foods, and utensils like knives and forks, renders wisdom teeth redundant. This is why evolutionary biologists classify them as vestigial organs – parts of the body, like the appendix, that serve no function.

Our jaws have become considerably smaller through evolution. Nine out of 10 people don’t have room in their mouth for wisdom teeth. So, why do we still get wisdom teeth, when they are so useless and troublesome? The answer may simply be that evolution is a slow and cautious process and hasn’t caught on to the idea that we no longer need these third molars.

Wisdom Teeth Problems

Most adults have four wisdom teeth, but some have fewer or, on rare occasions, more. Others are lucky and don’t get wisdom teeth at all, but that’s little consolation for the 65 per cent of us. Some experts say wisdom teeth could eventually disappear. Meanwhile, there are two big problems with these third molars. They frequently emerge misaligned, crowding other teeth, or they become impacted.

Impacted wisdom teeth can break some way through the gum line, paving the way for bacterial growth (pericoronitis). Other problems associated with impacted wisdom teeth are ulceration of the gums, and decay of other teeth. The wisdom teeth themselves are also vulnerable to cavities because they're hard to clean.

Don’t Postpone Wisdom Teeth Removal

Removal of wisdom teeth has become a common practice, and dentists or prosthodontists generally recommend prompt extraction to protect oral health by preventing further issues. Almost 85 per cent of adults have had their wisdom teeth removed. Signs of problems include pain, swelling, stiffness of the jaw, and feeling generally unwell.

Wisdom teeth can probably stay put when they’ve fully erupted, are positioned correctly with a good bite function, and you can get at them to clean them properly. However, even if your wisdom teeth are causing no problems right now, they may well do so later, when extraction can be problematic.

The roots of wisdom teeth in younger people tend not to be fully developed, and the bone is less dense, making removal easier. As you get older, bones in the mouth become harder, and this makes it more difficult to remove teeth. Older people also tend to have a longer healing time and recovery. If you wait too long to have your wisdom teeth extracted, surgery can cause fractured teeth and heavy bleeding. Another issue may be slight loss of movement of the jaw, which could last a few days, or a lifetime.

When Wisdom Teeth Need to Come Out

The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends removal of wisdom teeth in cases of:

  • Gum disease. Wisdom teeth can be a breeding ground for bacteria, resulting in periodontal disease.
  • Cysts (sacs of fluid). Cysts can develop around new wisdom teeth. Left untreated, they can damage the nerves of the jaw.
  • Tumors. Tumors, including some cancers, can develop around impacted teeth.
  • Cavities or damage of adjacent teeth. Wisdom teeth can push other teeth around, causing bite issues and pain. Swollen gums caused by wisdom teeth can create pockets that allow bacteria to grow, leading to cavities.

Having wisdom teeth removed sooner rather than later will also avoid:

  • Sinus problems: Issues with wisdom teeth can lead to sinus pain and congestion.
  • Teeth overcrowding: Impacted wisdom teeth can cause crowding of other teeth, which may require treatment to straighten them.

Indications of an Infected Impacted Wisdom Tooth

Signs that an impacted wisdom tooth has become infected include:

  • Jaw pain.
  • Bleeding or swollen gums.
  • Bad taste in the mouth.
  • Problems opening your mouth.
  • Swelling around the jaw.
  • Bad breath.

Why Early Removal of Wisdom Teeth is Preferable

Extraction of wisdom teeth sooner instead of later means that the teeth can be removed more easily and safely, with minimal damage to surrounding tissue. The optimal age for removal of wisdom teeth is during the young adult years, when the roots of these third molars are not fully developed, and there’s a greater likelihood of a fast recuperation after surgery. Although there's no age limit on extraction of wisdom teeth, as you get older, the surgery becomes more complex, recovery is more difficult, and the risk of complications is greater.

The Wisdom Teeth Extraction Process

The intricacy of the wisdom teeth extraction procedure depends on the position of the teeth, and your dentist or prosthodontist will tell you what to expect. An experienced dentist or prosthodontist will ensure minimal disturbance to bone structure to optimize your long-term oral health. The surgical process for removing wisdom teeth typically entails IV (intravenous) sedation and/or a local anesthetic. If you’re particularly apprehensive about the procedure, look for a dental or prosthodontics practice that’s experienced in wisdom teeth removal and licensed and certified to administer IV sedation.

A dentist or prosthodontist like Pacific Northwest Prosthodontics specializing in wisdom teeth extraction will help you to understand the whole process, and then discuss the most effective treatment with you. Feel free to reach out to us today to schedule a consultation and let the professionals eliminate the discomfort and nuisance of problematic wisdom teeth.