Why do wisdom teeth grow?

Why Do We Have Wisdom Teeth?

Just as you enter adulthood, your wisdom teeth make their presence known in the far reaches of your mouth. Wisdom teeth — officially the third molars — are the last set of teeth to come in, usually between 17 and 25 years of age, in the so-called “age of wisdom.”

For some, these teeth come in fine. For many others, wisdom teeth don’t come in properly (if at all), are vulnerable to disease, and need to be removed to protect a healthy mouth.

It’s estimated that 95 percent of American 18-year-olds “have wisdom teeth, and most of them have little if any chance to function in a normal manner,” says Louis Rafetto, DMD, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon in Wilmington, Del.

So if wisdom teeth are virtually useless in millions of mouths, why do we have them? One theory lies in the mouths of our ancestors. Early humans needed an extra row of teeth to chew their food: a diet of uncooked, hard items like roots, nuts, and meat. “I’m not an expert on anthropology, but clearly the need for and utility of wisdom teeth in the past exceeds that of the need of today,” says Dr. Rafetto.

Although it’s uncommon, some people born today never develop wisdom teeth. Why? It’s likely because of the size reduction in our jaw and face over the past 20,000 years, says John Hawks, PhD, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and an expert in human evolution. He adds that lack of wisdom teeth is more common in agricultural populations than in hunter-gatherers (like Aboriginal Australians) today.

The Trouble With Wisdom Teeth

Anatomy is at the root of most problems with wisdom teeth, says Thomas Dodson, DMD, MPH, a professor of oral and maxillofacial surgery at Harvard School of Dental Medicine and director of the Center for Applied Clinical Investigation at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. “Either jaws are too small or teeth themselves are too big for the jaw,” he says. This adds up to a crowded mouth. Dr. Dodson says Mother Nature probably programmed third molars to come in during the late teens or twenties, when the jaw would be big enough for another set of molars.

But today, wisdom teeth often don’t cooperate with Mother Nature’s plan. Because of the lack of space, molars can grow sideways, only partially emerge from the gums (called “partially impacted wisdom teeth”), or get trapped in the gums and jawbone (“impacted wisdom teeth”). Dodson says partially impacted wisdom teeth are chronically contaminated with bacteria associated with infection, inflammation, tooth decay, and gum disease. Because they’re so far back in the mouth, it’s hard to keep them clean and get rid of the bacteria. Fully impacted wisdom teeth also can get infected and disturb the position of the other molars. These consequences can spread outside of the mouth, causing other health problems.

Even when wisdom teeth come in fully (“erupted” out of the gums), they can still pose a problem for a healthy mouth. Here, it’s all about location, location, location. The third molars are so far back in the mouth that it’s easy for food to get trapped, leading to more bad news: plaque, cavities, and gum disease, says Dodson. Many people just can’t reach them to brush and floss well enough.

Getting Smart About Wisdom Teeth

How to manage your wisdom teeth is a decision to make with your dentist or oral surgeon. Getting them removed isn’t always a foregone conclusion if they are fully erupted and functional. Follow your dentist’s advice to stay free of gum disease. Because wisdom teeth are predisposed to problems, you’ll have to be vigilant about oral hygiene and keeping regular dental appointments. If wisdom teeth show signs of disease or decay, your dental health team will strongly suggest getting them removed.

Surgery is definitely an option for partially or fully impacted wisdom teeth, Dodson says. If you don’t get them out, they’ll need to be monitored very closely with regular dental exams, X-rays, and thorough periodontal cleanings for the rest of your life. Over time, this can be an expensive option, but on the other hand, this could just be part of the regular dental care you’d get for the other 28 anyway.

Despite your best efforts, you may end up needing your wisdom teeth removed eventually. It’s a common practice the world over. A 2004 study from Finland followed 118 people from age 20 to 38. At the beginning of the study, 85 percent of participants had their wisdom teeth (partially impacted, fully impacted, or erupted), but 18 years later, only 31 percent of the people still had those teeth. And an update in 2009 showed that the percentage of wisdom teeth removed continued to increase in the years after the study was published.

Wisdom Teeth Surgery: A Wise Choice?

Rafetto says it’s important to get wisdom teeth examined during your teens. Dentists and oral surgeons are able to determine whether the teeth will be functional or likely to cause problems down the road. If problems are suspected, “it is wise to remove before problems lead either to symptoms or damage that may not be repairable,” he says. If the decision is made to take them out, Rafetto advises not to wait. The surgery is usually less complicated in young people, he says, because the roots are less established and, in general, healing is easier.

The American Public Health Association (APHA) has a different opinion. The group says the possibility of future problems is not a valid reason to remove teeth that are asymptomatic, meaning they’re not showing symptoms of disease. The APHA issued a policy statement in 2008 arguing that what it calls “prophylactic removal” is largely unnecessary, wastes billions of health care dollars, and puts people at risk for surgical complications.

Dodson and Rafetto are quick to say that “asymptomatic” does not mean “disease-free.” You can develop dental disease well before you feel any pain or experience other symptoms, they say.

What are the potential risks of wisdom teeth surgery? As with any surgery, infection is possible, and there are risks associated with anesthesia. Dodson says there’s a slight chance of nerve injury, but if that occurs, it’s usually a temporary problem. Immediately after the procedure, you’ll have pain and swelling, but your surgeon will suggest over-the-counter pain relievers and possibly prescribe a stronger painkiller, should you need one.

How to manage your wisdom teeth is ultimately your decision. Though it’s aggravating to have to consider expensive surgery for teeth the body shouldn’t be making anymore, it may be the right dental health option. Having a frank discussion with your dental health team and reviewing all your options is the first step in making the right choice.

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BOSTON — Many people have suffered from impacted third molars, also known as wisdom teeth. But there are also a lucky few who are missing a wisdom tooth or two (or even all four). Why do some people have wisdom teeth, while others don’t?

The answer, partly hinted at in new research presented here at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, could also explain why particular ethnic groups, such as the Inuit, have a particularly low occurrence of wisdom teeth.

Some thousands of years ago, a random mutation arose which suppressed the formation of wisdom teeth, a trait that then spread and now accounts for the lack of wisdom teeth among some modern humans, said Princeton University researcher Alan Mann.

The oldest fossils missing third molars hail from China and are about 300,000 to 400,000 years old, suggesting the first mutation may have arisen there, Mann told LiveScience.

Like most mammals, humans’ ancestors had four sets of three molars (for a total of 12, with six in both the upper and lower jaw) used to help chew and grind food. Unlike other mammals, however, humans underwent a period of evolution in which the brain greatly expanded in size, Mann said. This created an architectural problem; with a much larger brain case, the jaw had to become narrower so that it could still connect to the lower part of the skull, Mann said.

Genes that control the quantity of teeth, however, evolve independently from those that control brain development, Mann’s research has shown. This led to a mismatch, in which the human jaw was no longer large enough, in many cases, to give wisdom teeth room to erupt through the gums.

Impacted third molars (teeth that do not make it out of the gums) can become infected, leading to serious health problems. Even more commonly, however, wisdom teeth cause severe pain. This fact alone could help explain how the lack of wisdom teeth evolved, Mann said: The pain could make one less likely to reproduce. That would favor people with the mutation, who would suffer less pain, he added.

“Imagine a scenario where one evening a person is in serious pain from an impacted third molar,” Mann said. “Their partner comes up and says, ‘How about a bout of reproduction?’ And the person says, ‘Not tonight, dear, my jaws are killing me.'”

Perhaps 10 to 25 percent of Americans of European ancestry are missing at least one third molar, Mann said. For African Americans and Asian Americans, the figure is 11 percent and 40 percent, respectively, he said. But the Inuit, a group of people who live in the Arctic regions of Canada, Greenland and Alaska, have the fewest wisdom teeth; about 45 percent of them lack one or more third molar, he said.

There are probably a couple reasons for this. For one, this group originated in Asia, where the oldest fossils lacking wisdom teeth were found, Mann said. Secondly, like other Asians, the Inuit tend to have flatter faces (when compared to Europeans and Africans), meaning they have even narrower jaws, leaving less room for teeth, he said. Third, Inuit teeth also tend to be larger than average, meaning that this mutation would be even more advantageous in this population, Mann said.

Reach Douglas Main at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Douglas_Main. Follow LiveScience on Twitter @livescience. We’re also on Facebook& Google+.

Some important wisdom teeth facts to know before you go to the dentist!

What are wisdom teeth and how did they get their name? Wisdom teeth are basically your third row of molars. They were dubbed “wisdom teeth” because they generally show up between ages 17-25. A good majority of people will have to deal with their wisdom teeth at some point or another, so let’s take a look at these interesting and sometimes troublesome-teeth.

Why Do We Have Wisdom Teeth?

Wisdom teeth were necessary for earlier humans to chew and eat. Our ancestors had a much tougher diet than we currently enjoy today like leaves, roots and meat, that may have worndown teeth faster, so they needed that third row of molars. Over time, the types of food we eat have changed, so they are no longer necessary. As a result of evolution over time, some people never develop them at all. Some do develop them, but have no problems. In most cases, around 85% of people with wisdom teeth will have to have them removed.

As science progresses, our wisdom teeth are being researched. In fact, some researchers have found they can be used to produce stem cells. So you may want to hold on to those teeth after they are pulled. On the other hand researchers are also looking into ways to prevent wisdom teeth from growing at all.

Why Do They Cause Problems?

Over time, humans have developed smaller jaws than our ancestors had. Because of this, we simply don’t have room in our mouths to accommodate extra teeth. One of the problems that may occur due to wisdom teeth is that they crowd our other teeth, causing cosmetic issues, such as crooked teeth, and can result in pain in the jaw, swollen gums and other irritations of the mouth.

One common problem is that they can become impacted. This happens when the teeth are misaligned and there just isn’t room for them to break through the surface, causing quite a bit of discomfort.

Another problem with wisdom teeth is that they are so far back, they can be difficult to clean. This poses a risk for infection and tooth decay. For these reasons, dentist often recommend that wisdom teeth be removed.

How do you know if your teeth are causing problems? Well, normally this is discovered during routine dental visits, but if you have experienced jaw pain, swollen or painful gums or a “weird” taste in the back of your mouth, you should make an appointment to find out what’s going on.

Should I Have My Wisdom Teeth Pulled?

Only your dentist can answer that question. X rays will show if they have developed, how they are coming in and if there is enough room for them. Sometimes, the dentist may just recommend having some of them pulled.

About 35% of the population do not develop wisdom teeth at all. This is possibly a result of evolution, since they are no longer necessary. For those who do develop them, not all will develop problems. Some dentists may recommend that they be pulled anyway, as a preventative measure.

Getting them pulled: What You Need To Know

Getting a wisdom tooth pulled is no fun, and getting them all pulled even less so. However, if your teeth are potential problems, it is best to get the matter addressed as soon as possible. Many dentists advise to have them pulled early on. Teenagers or early adults are good candidates for the procedure, because the roots of the teeth are often not fully formed yet, and recovery time is quicker and easier.

Read also: Tooth Extraction Before Heart Surgery May Lead to Serious Consequences

This is an outpatient procedure, but it is considered a surgery. You will receive either a local or general anesthetic. After the procedure, you will be given care instructions to help speed healing and avoid infection.

You will experience some discomfort including jaw soreness and pain at the site of the surgery. You may be prescribed pain medication for this. You will experience bleeding on and off for a few days, and it should taper off and then stop.

One of the most notable side effects of this procedure is swelling. You may look like a chipmunk for a few days! There may also be some bruising. All of these symptoms should disappear after a few days, and your should be checking in with your dentist.

You will probably want to stick to liquids and soft foods for a few days. If you love ice cream and pudding, here’s your chance to indulge yourself. Avoid smoking or chewing hard foods, gum or using straws. You will most likely be scheduled for a follow up visit to make sure that your mouth is healing.

As always, taking care of your teeth is a good step towards overall health. Regular dental check ups can help prevent tooth decay or catch other problems before they progress. Remember to brush and floss everyday, and to avoid sugary drinks and foods that cause tooth decay.

By Camille Webb

Just before my daughter turned 5, she had dental treatment done under local anesthesia to fill troublesome cavities. The trauma from the experience alone was enough to make her dislike going to the dentist even for routine cleanings and checkups.

However, many years down the road, that experience might lend her an even greater benefit than we ever could have imagined.

Research has shown that young children injected with shots of anesthetic for dental care sometimes never grew lower wisdom teeth later, suggesting these shots might make it possible to deliberately stop wisdom teeth from growing.

This initial study published in the April 2013 issue of The Journal of the American Dental Association looked at dental records from 220 children treated between ages 2 and 6. The researchers acknowledge more work is needed on a larger study group of children to confirm the findings.

However, the study raises an interesting question: Could a “vaccine” or a medical procedure to prevent wisdom teeth from growing become a routine practice one day, essentially dissolving the troublesome teeth for good?

Wisdom Teeth 101

Wisdom teeth are permanent teeth that form at the back of the mouth and typically break through the gum at about age 18. They are the third set of molar teeth to erupt, says Kamal Busaidy, BDS, FDSRCS, an associate professor in the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Dentistry.

We typically have four wisdom teeth — two on the top and two on the bottom. While our other permanent teeth begin to form shortly before or at birth, wisdom teeth are a little different.

“While the cells that are necessary to form wisdom teeth are all present in the jaws at birth, they don’t start the process of forming the wisdom teeth until about the age of 7,” Busaidy says. “They usually can be seen on X-ray by the age of 12, but they are not fully formed until about age 18.”

Wisdom teeth serve a purpose for biting and chewing, just like permanent teeth. However, since the majority of wisdom teeth do not erupt properly into the mouth, they usually do not serve this function efficiently, Busaidy says.

Wisdom teeth may have evolved in our ancestors to replace teeth that would become worn out with chewing an abrasive diet, Busaidy says. “Modern diets are not as abrasive and the jaws of modern man are smaller than our ancestors, leaving less space for wisdom teeth,” he adds.

Crowded mouth

“Two’s company, but three’s a crowd” could sum up the problem with third molars. When it comes time for wisdom teeth to break through the gums, there often isn’t enough room for them to fit properly or even comfortably in the back of the mouth.

“In addition, they commonly erupt either into the tooth in front or backward toward the back of the jaw,” Busaidy says, adding that this is known as impaction.

Impacted wisdom teeth can lead to other problems, including pain and discomfort, gum disease, tooth decay and even infection, all of which would necessitate their removal, he says.

“On rare occasions, if a wisdom tooth becomes impacted or stuck in the jaw bone, it can cause the development of a cyst or other troublesome condition that may threaten the integrity of the jaw itself,” he notes.

The prevailing opinion of oral health experts, Busaidy says, is that wisdom teeth should be removed if they are actively causing pain, inflammation or infection.

“In addition, when wisdom teeth are impacted, they are usually removed to prevent gum or periodontal disease developing in the adjacent teeth,” he says. “It’s possible for wisdom teeth to alter the alignment of teeth straightened by orthodontics, so orthodontists commonly request teenagers to have their wisdom teeth removed at the conclusion of orthodontic therapy.”

It’s likely that many of us had our wisdom teeth removed as teenagers or young adults in our 20s, before symptoms flared up. That’s because many dentists see that as the optimal time to have the surgery rather than waiting until you’re older.

“When the roots of a wisdom tooth are fully developed, it can make removal of the tooth more difficult than would be the case when the roots are only partially formed,” Busaidy says. “In addition, when the roots are fully formed, they are closer to the inferior alveolar nerve. This nerve in the jaw bone is responsible for sensation in the lip, chin and lower teeth. While the overall incidence of damage to this nerve from wisdom tooth surgery is typically less than one percent, it is lower in younger adults undergoing the procedure compared to older adults.”

A dental debate

For years, wisdom tooth removal has been a fairly common practice, as many dental experts advise taking them out before they cause problems. But now some dentists don’t recommend it because of the risks involved with anesthesia and surgery and the cost of the procedure.

Oral health experts and surgeons are divided on whether it’s OK to keep wisdom teeth that aren’t causing problems, as long as they are closely monitored by the patient and dentist.

“Some in the dental community believe wisdom teeth should be left in place,” Busaidy says. “They argue that the risks posed by wisdom teeth do not warrant their removal and that the health care costs associated with the surgery do not benefit the patient or community.

“Those who advocate removal of wisdom teeth argue that the risks are minimal when the surgery is performed by a board-certified oral and maxillofacial surgeon,” he adds. “They believe that the cost of infection, gum disease and decay from retaining wisdom teeth far outweigh the financial costs to the patient or community.”

In some cases, wisdom teeth can be left in place with minimal long-term risk to the patient, he notes, while others should be removed to prevent or eliminate disease. The only way to know for sure is to evaluate each case individually.

“A board-certified oral and maxillofacial surgeon is best placed to provide an opinion on any individual case and can perform the surgery with minimal risk to the patient,” he adds.

Nevertheless, Busaidy believes wisdom teeth should be done away with.

“Personally, I do not minimize the risks posed by retaining wisdom teeth,” he explains. “I have treated too many patients with severe neck infections related to decayed or impacted wisdom teeth necessitating emergency surgery in the hospital. Since pain is not always an early sign, many of these patients do not realize how bad things are until their disease has progressed to a late stage.”

More studies needed

If researchers do find a way to keep wisdom teeth from growing, it might end the debate about keeping or extracting them.

The researchers think two things may account for the missing lower wisdom teeth in the children studied: the anesthetic solution or trauma from the needle hitting the wisdom tooth bud.

Nonetheless, more studies are needed to confirm the researchers’ theories and figure out the benefits of preserving wisdom teeth, Busaidy says. He cites one possible such benefit to retaining our wisdom teeth.

“If it’s necessary to remove a molar tooth due to decay in adolescent years, we can sometimes use the wisdom tooth to replace it by encouraging to drift forward into the space created by the loss of the molar tooth,” he says.

As for whether or not my daughter, age 7 as of this writing, will have wisdom teeth, only time will tell.

This article, which has been updated, originally appeared on HealthLEADER, an online wellness magazine produced by The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth). Visit UTHealth News for more articles on a broad array of health and wellness topics.

You’ve Your Wisdom Tooth Removed

Well, you’re now a few grams lighter than you used to be: your wisdom teeth were removed. But some questions might remain. Wondering how long you’ll be recovering for? Or when you’ll be back to chewing crunchy carrots and apples with ease? Read on to find out.

Getting your teeth pulled

The wisdom teeth, also known as the third molars, are the final set of molars to erupt. Not everyone keeps these teeth, nor are they necessary for having a healthy, beautiful smile. In fact, they can cause harm if they do not come in properly.

When these molars come in, usually between the ages of 16 and 20, there may not be enough room left for them to erupt. They can emerge at an angle, and may crowd the mouth or sometimes they don’t fully emerge. As you can imagine, this can lead to future oral health problems like infections and pain.

The American Dental Association recommends that people have their mouth checked before the age of 20 to see how the wisdom teeth are developing. If necessary, your dentist or an oral surgeon can remove the final molars in a single outpatient procedure.

Scary? It doesn’t have to be. There are simple ways to take care of yourself – just because you had your wisdom teeth pulled doesn’t mean you can’t handle it wisely.

Post-surgery steps

After getting your wisdom teeth pulled, you are likely to experience pain and swelling. There may be some bleeding. While your mouth heals, you have to be careful not to dislodge the blood clot, or harm your healing gums.

Typical wisdom teeth recovery time is three to four days, although it can be as long as one week. The length of recovery depends a lot on how badly the wisdom teeth were impacted, and how they were erupting.

Plan on taking it easy for a few days; you can resume your normal activities after the first day in most cases, but for about a week you don’t want to do anything that could dislodge the blood clot from where your teeth were removed.

Stay cool to keep pain at bay

  • Take a prescription pain killer recommended by your oral surgeon, or purchase an over-the-counter option
  • Place an ice pack over the jaw – this reduces swelling and discomfort
  • Avoid brushing, spitting, flossing and rinsing for 24 hours
  • Rinse frequently with salt water to keep your mouth clean
  • Stock up on apple sauce, yogurt, and cottage cheese. You want to eat a soft-food diet for the first day or more, and then slowly move to semi-soft foods when you’re ready.

Original content by Brenna Stone

Not just a year ago my wisdom was tucked tightly away in my mouth, just below the surface of my gums, bothering no one. And then, last fall, it decided to emerge in the shape of three large, impacted teeth that had to come out. As I lay under the dental surgeon’s tools over the holidays, slowly coming out of my anesthesia, I wondered to myself: where did these teeth come from?

Anthropologists believe wisdom teeth, or the third set of molars, were the evolutionary answer to our ancestor’s early diet of coarse, rough food – like leaves, roots, nuts and meats – which required more chewing power and resulted in excessive wear of the teeth. The modern diet with its softer foods, along with marvels of modern technologies such as forks, spoons and knives, has made the need for wisdom teeth nonexistent. As a result, evolutionary biologists now classify wisdom teeth as vestigial organs, or body parts that have become functionless due to evolution.

Why do wisdom teeth wait to erupt long after the tooth fairy has stopped leaving change under your pillow? Tooth development, from baby primary teeth to permanent teeth, takes place in an organized fashion, over a course of years, with the first molar erupting around the age of six and the second molar erupting around the age of 12. Wisdom teeth, which begin forming around your tenth birthday, are the last set of molars on the tooth-development timeline, so they usually don’t erupt until you are between the ages of 17 and 25. Because this is the age that people are said to become wiser, the set of third molars has been nicknamed “wisdom teeth.”

Some people never get wisdom teeth, but for those who do, the number may be anywhere from one to four – and, on very rare occasions, more than four, according to a study published in the Journal of the Canadian Dental Association. Scientific literature has yet to be able to explain why the number of teeth per individual varies, but for those who do get these extraneous, or supernumerary, teeth, it can lead to all sorts of problems.

Because human jaws have become smaller throughout evolutionary history, when wisdom teeth form they often become impacted, or blocked, by the other teeth around them. Also, if the tooth partially erupts, food can get trapped in the gum tissue surrounding it, which can lead to bacteria growth and, possibly, a serious infection.

Wisdom teeth that do not erupt but remain tucked away can also lead to oral problems, such as crowding or displacement of permanent teeth. On very rare occasions, a cyst (fluid filled sac) can form in the soft tissue surrounding the impacted wisdom tooth. These cysts can lead to bone destruction, jaw expansion, or damage to the surrounding teeth. Even more uncommonly, tumors can develop in the cysts, which can lead to the jaw spontaneously breaking if the tumor or cyst grows too much.

There are patients that develop wisdom teeth that function just as well as every other tooth in the mouth, and as a result they do not need to go under the knife. But no one can predict when third molar complications will occur, and the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons estimates that about 85 percent of wisdom teeth will eventually need to be removed.

If you do have wisdom teeth that you are thinking of having taken out, the association strongly recommends that patients remove wisdom teeth when they are young adults, in order to “prevent future problems and to ensure optimal healing.” People who have oral surgery after the age of 35 have higher risks for complications, harder surgeries, and longer healing times than those who get them removed in their late teens or early 20’s. The best time to get those suckers out is when the roots are about two-thirds formed, which is generally between the ages of 15 to 18. Though I was…well, a lady never tells her age, but suffice it to say that for me, a weeks long lack of locution and a diet of soup and applesauce was worth no longer having pain in my jaw and food in my teeth.

Wisdom Teeth Removal: Optimize Whole Body Health

Wisdom teeth are often problematic to our oral health when they emerge and if they are retained. If we keep our wisdom teeth, they can contribute to a host of oral health conditions including gum disease, tooth decay, occlusal problems, and orofacial pain. Most dental professionals recommend the removal of wisdom teeth because of their problematic nature. Having wisdom teeth extracted early on can prevent many oral health complications and improve a person’s quality of life. A tooth extraction involves the removal of all a tooth’s parts, including its roots. Following are some whole body benefits to having your wisdom teeth (third molars) removed.

Reduce Headaches

When wisdom teeth come through the gums during early adulthood, the rest of a person’s teeth are well-established in the jaw and gums. Since these teeth are well-established, having extra teeth emerge so late in life can lead to unwanted tooth movement. In fact, crowding is the most common spacing issue associated with wisdom teeth. Crowding not only affects tooth placement, it affects a person’s comfort. Tooth movement contributes to headaches, which is an issue that commonly affects patients with wisdom teeth emerging. Having wisdom teeth removed can improve the frequency of headaches because teeth no longer have pressure on them from third molars.

Less Orofacial Pain

Wisdom teeth produce significant oral and facial discomfort – especially if the emergence of wisdom teeth has already contributed to gum disease and tooth decay. Orofacial pain can greatly reduce a person’s quality of life and removing third molars will mitigate the uncomfortable issues associated with wisdom tooth retention.

Decreased Risk of Oral Disease

Keeping third molars increases people’s risks for developing common conditions like dental caries and gum disease, both of these conditions can cause oral infections, loss of vital tissue, and discomfort. By removing wisdom teeth as soon as possible, patients can enjoy reduced risks of destructive oral health problems.

If you have been referred to our practice for wisdom tooth removal, contact our team at Commonwealth Oral & Facial Surgery today.

What You Need to Know About Your Wisdom Teeth


Wisdom teeth: they’re hard to keep clean, they can grow in at an improper angle and require removal, and they aren’t really necessary. What else should you know about these particular teeth? A few quick facts are waiting for you below.

Why Are They Called “Wisdom” Teeth?

Your wisdom teeth are nothing more than the third molars found on both the upper and lower jaws. They grow in all the way at the back of your mouth and they look like your other molars. So why are they referred to as “wisdom” teeth? Well, it’s for no other reason than the fact that they will typically grow in between the ages of 17 and 21 when you’re supposed to be older and wiser. Would you say that you were wise at that age?

What Can You Expect When Your Wisdom Teeth Grow In?

Growing up, you lost all of your baby teeth and you watched your permanent teeth grow in. Most of the time, you probably didn’t have any discomfort. But this might not be the case with your wisdom teeth, which could end up causing discomfort as they break through the gum line.

Why Do Wisdom Teeth Cause Problems?

Wisdom teeth have certainly earned their bad reputation. For many individuals, the wisdom teeth could be impacted to varying degrees, and they could end up causing pain and other complications. But not everyone will experience problems with their wisdom teeth. For some people, these molars will grow in perfectly fine and straight, and they will serve as an extra set of teeth for chewing.

Hold on, though, don’t get too excited. Even individuals who have straight wisdom teeth could experience problems associated with getting to the back of the mouth and keeping those teeth clean, and that might increase the risk of tooth decay. Not good!

So what’s the point of wisdom teeth if they have such a high potential of causing problems? Experts believe that these extra teeth were more useful to our ancestors, who had larger jaws that could accommodate the teeth more comfortably, and who could use the extra teeth for chewing foods that were tough and raw. Others believe that the wisdom teeth might have also come in handy when our ancestors’ other teeth would decay and fall out. Thankfully, we have modern dental care to take care of our chompers today!

Fun fact: some people will never develop any wisdom teeth, while others may have fewer than four. Perhaps evolution is working on slowly removing them so humans eventually won’t have to deal with them at all anymore? Only time will tell.

What Happens When Wisdom Teeth Don’t Grow in Straight?

If wisdom teeth don’t grow in straight, there is a higher risk of complications, as these molars might end up adversely affecting nearby teeth. Some of the problems that may occur include nerve damage, jaw damage, damage to the adjacent teeth, and crowding of the teeth. A dental x-ray will be able to tell your dentist how your wisdom teeth could be affecting your other teeth, and whether or not removing the wisdom teeth would be the best choice.

What Does It Mean When Wisdom Teeth Are Impacted?

Impacted wisdom teeth aren’t able to completely erupt through your gum line. They could be blocked by other teeth, there might not be enough room for them, or they might be stuck in the jawbone.

Symptoms that may result from impacted wisdom teeth include severe pain and discomfort, as well as infection and inflammation. Impactions might also increase the risk of damage to nearby teeth, as well as damage to the gums and jaw. Wisdom teeth could push your other teeth out of alignment (so much for the braces you endured for years!), and cysts could form around impacted teeth, damaging the nerves within the jaw and causing sinus congestion, pressure, and pain. Yikes!

Here’s a breakdown of the different types of wisdom tooth impactions:

  • Mesioangular Impaction: A mesioangular impaction means that the wisdom tooth is angled forward, facing the front of the mouth. This tooth could potentially end up pushing other teeth out of alignment.
  • Distoangular Impaction: This type of impaction will cause the wisdom tooth to be angled away from the second molar, so it will be tilted towards the back of the mouth.
  • Horizontal Impaction: A horizontal impaction will have the wisdom tooth lying on its side at a 90° angle.
  • Vertical Impaction: When a wisdom tooth is angled correctly but it has not erupted through the gum line appropriately, it is considered a vertical impaction.

What Are Your Wisdom Teeth Up To?

The best way to know what your wisdom teeth look like, whether they have erupted completely or they haven’t shown up at all, is by seeing your dentist. He or she will be able to take dental x-rays that will reveal everything you need to know about these molars and whether or not you need to have surgery to remove them.

If your wisdom tooth, or teeth, need to be removed, it is highly recommended that you consult with an experienced oral surgeon. The level of difficulty and the risks associated with the surgery will depend upon the type of impaction and the problems that it is causing.

There’s no doubt that wisdom teeth can be a pain—literally—but seeing your dentist regularly and keeping an eye on those molars will help ensure you tackle problems at their earliest stages. And, who knows, you might be one of the lucky people who never have any problems with their wisdom teeth!

Sources:

Does Everyone Have Wisdom Teeth?

For plenty of teenagers, scheduling surgery to have their wisdom teeth removed is a rite of passage. But imagine your dentist had some interesting news for you: X-rays revealed that you don’t have any wisdom teeth or that you have fewer than the standard four.

Wait a second, you might be thinking, does everyone have wisdom teeth? Not quite. Although more people have wisdom teeth than don’t, there are some who are missing at least one of their wisdom teeth. Other people don’t have any at all.

How Many People Worldwide Are Missing Wisdom Teeth?

It’s difficult to say exactly how many people are missing one or more of their wisdom teeth. A study published in the Dental Research Journal notes that anywhere from 5% to 37% of the population have congenitally missing wisdom teeth, which means the teeth never formed in the first place. Your dentist might also refer to this condition as agenesis of the third molars.

A Harvard University dissertation examined 92 studies that focused on the frequency of wisdom tooth or third molar agenesis. Out of the 63,314 subjects, the rate of third molar agenesis across the world was 22.63%. The dissertation also noted that women were more likely to be missing one or more of their wisdom teeth. Both men and women were more likely to have missing wisdom teeth in the upper jaw compared to the lower jaw.

Why are some people missing wisdom teeth? Researchers don’t know for sure, but they believe that genes, chewing function, environmental factors, diet and disease might all play a role, as a study published in PLOS ONE explains.

Is It a Problem If You Don’t Have Wisdom Teeth?

If your dentist gives you the news that you’re missing one or more of your wisdom teeth, should you worry? Not at all. Some people joke that not having wisdom teeth makes them more highly evolved, as modern people don’t need their wisdom teeth for chewing or speaking. If your dentist tells you that you’re missing a wisdom tooth or two, you might consider yourself lucky, as you’ll either get to skip out on wisdom tooth extraction surgery altogether or will potentially have a less involved procedure if you do need it.

Third Molar Agenesis vs. Impacted Wisdom Teeth

Having impacted wisdom teeth isn’t the same as missing wisdom teeth. When your wisdom teeth are impacted, they are stuck in the jaw or gums and can’t erupt fully, as the American Dental Association notes. They might stay under the gumline or only partially emerge. Impacted wisdom teeth can be painful and might put you at an increased risk for bacteria build-up or infection in the gums. In other cases, impacted teeth may not be causing any problems and the dentist can monitor them, explains the Mayo Clinic.

The Harvard University dissertation also looked at the number of people who have impacted wisdom teeth around the world. It reviewed 49 studies, with 83,484 subjects, and found that around 24.4% of the population has impacted wisdom teeth.

Do Wisdom Teeth Always Need to Be Removed?

If you aren’t so lucky as to be missing some or all of your wisdom teeth, you might be wondering if having them means that surgery is in your future. While it used to be common practice to extract the wisdom teeth even if they weren’t causing any problems, a review of studies performed by Cochrane Oral Health suggests that there is insufficient evidence showing whether or not asymptomatic wisdom teeth need to be extracted.

Does everyone have wisdom teeth? No, but whether you do or not, it’s up to you and your dentist to decide what’s best for the health of your mouth and your overall health. If you’re concerned about your wisdom teeth or have any questions about removing them, talk to your dentist. They’re available to give you guidance and help you make the decisions that are best for you.

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