Upon receiving our adult set of teeth somewhere before adolescence, we begin down a path of learning important life lessons. With all that wisdom we pick up throughout our teen years, we then experience the growth of our third molars, or teeth commonly called “wisdom teeth,” as they come with maturation. Most people will begin feeling their wisdom teeth move around 17-21 years of age, but some can monitor them sooner with the help of regular dental cleanings and x-rays. Surprisingly, however, not everyone is born with them! Wisdom teeth are the most common congenitally missing teeth in humans. While some people see wisdom teeth removal as almost a rite of passage from teenage years into adulthood, others may not understand the importance of deciding to extract them versus allowing them to grow in. Here’s everything you need to know about your or your teen’s wisdom teeth.
Why Do We Have Them?
If humans were designed to have wisdom teeth, then why do they require removal surgery with sedation for the majority of people? The question is very logical, but it’s explained by the fact that since early human development, the average diet and eating method has changed drastically. In earlier civilizations, we ate much more abrasive food that was hard to chew and could potentially break or wear down the teeth. That’s why the body adapted by equipping the mouth with an extra set of molars when entering adulthood to add extra chewing power, while also taking over for any worn down neighboring molars.
Now that the average modern-day human diet contains much softer foods that don’t need to be broken down as harshly, the most common cases of wisdom teeth include impaction, or where they are not able to erupt past the gums because the tissue is not worn down or stimulated enough throughout developing years. Those who do have molars that grow in, will also usually face various complications with placement or misalignment because current eating and diet habits have changed the shape and growth of the modern human jaw and mouth.
To Pull, or Not to Pull
That is the question. One of the first steps to determining whether wisdom teeth should be pulled is to speak to a dental professional. A primary concern with these third molars growing in is what effect they will have on the alignment of your other teeth in their current position. Some people (or their parents) spend thousands of dollars on braces in their early teens, which gives them a leg up on figuring out their wisdom teeth situation. Usually, the orthodontist and dentist will communicate about the future of the alignment before a treatment plan is made based on how the wisdom teeth look in x-rays. There are several possible problems that people typically experience with wisdom teeth that will call for their removal:
- Impacted wisdom teeth are third morals that are stuck in the dental bone and unable to come down and through the gums. This could cause bone loss, damage to the roots of nearby teeth, and even an infection if a cyst forms due to inflammation and irritation.
- Partially grown wisdom teeth can cause open sores and wounds in the tooth sockets, giving way to food particles and bacteria to accumulate. An infection can quickly set in, causing painful side-effects and high fever, sometimes even sepsis.
- Wisdom teeth that have grown in, but didn’t have the proper room to settle in can cause crowding of other adult teeth. This can be a nightmare for people who have already had braces or other dental work.
- Improperly positioned wisdom teeth that have grown in can cause difficulty when flossing and brushing while also creating crevasses and areas where bacteria and plaque manifest. This can lead to much more significant issues like cavities, swelling, and gum disease.
If your dentist becomes aware of issues like infection, cysts, swelling, tumors, damage to other teeth, or developing gum disease, they will likely refer you to an oral surgeon to have wisdom teeth removed. It’s not uncommon to experience pain and headaches as wisdom teeth shift and change, so it’s important to monitor them and communicate any kind of changes to your dentist as soon as possible.
Some people may find that their wisdom teeth are able to grow in without any of the aforementioned problems, and are advised to leave them alone. If you are in that small percentage of people, it’s absolutely critical to maintain perfect oral hygiene making sure to floss and brush daily, reaching all the way back to the wisdom teeth and the area of the mouth behind them.
There is currently a hot topic debate between dental professionals about the necessity of removing wisdom teeth, a practice that is now considered predictable and commonplace. Oral and maxillofacial surgeons are now beginning to look at the risks of the surgery itself, along with how extracting too many teeth at an early age can damage tongue and jaw posture. Some dental professionals argue that the surgery itself can pose health risks like the 1% chance of nerve damage or dental bone fracture. Others also argue risks that come with aftercare and potential infections that come about during the healing process.
Ultimately, the decision to have the very routine and safe removable procedure will be your choice, as long as you are aware of the benefits and potential risks and alternate options, given your wisdom tooth positioning. The majority of people who go forward with removal can enjoy painless dental health with minimal need for fillings, drilling, or other dental procedures due to the adequate spacing of their teeth. If you’re worried about your wisdom teeth or are a parent anticipating your child’s impending wisdom teeth years, begin speaking with a dentist and orthodontist ahead of time to create a plan that can bypass any potential issues that can occur when wisdom teeth start to stir and move.