Our wisdom teeth are the broadest and strongest molars, often the last set of adult teeth to grow in. They pop out between 17 and 25, but not everyone gets them. And those who get them may experience pain, infection, and other oral health issues — prompting most people to have them removed.
What are Wisdom Teeth?
Wisdom teeth, or “third molars,” constitute the final set of adult teeth that emerge at the rear of your mouth. While some individuals experience trouble-free growth of these teeth, others encounter complications when their wisdom teeth become impacted, failing to erupt through the gums or jawbone.
This impaction can lead to various oral health problems, such as:
- Gum disease
Consequently, many healthcare professionals recommend the removal of impacted wisdom teeth to prevent these issues.
But note that not everyone develops wisdom teeth, and this occurrence is a normal variation. Some will experience the emergence of these molars, while others will not, and both scenarios fall within the spectrum of typical dental development.
What is the Function of Wisdom Teeth?
The need for wisdom teeth goes back to our primitive ancestors, who had diets consisting of raw plants, hard nuts, and tough meats. Wisdom teeth were essential for grinding these foods to aid in digestion.
However, as our dietary habits evolved with the advent of modern food preparation techniques and the use of utensils, the necessity for these third molars gradually diminished.
Interestingly, human evolution has not remained static — it has responded to these dietary changes. A notable change has been the reduction in the size of our jaws. This reduction is why many people today lack the necessary space in their mouths for wisdom teeth to emerge properly.
It is common for individuals to experience issues such as impacted or misaligned wisdom teeth due to this evolutionary adaptation.
While wisdom teeth can serve a purpose when they erupt correctly by providing additional support and helping preserve jawbone integrity, they are generally considered vestigial in modern healthcare. That means they once played a crucial role in our ancestors’ lives but have become less relevant.
But still, why do some people have wisdom teeth today? Few individuals still have room for them despite their smaller jaws. Hence, some can coincide with them, opting not to have them extracted.
Understanding the Anatomy of Wisdom Teeth
Wisdom teeth resemble other molars in your mouth, exhibiting two to three roots. But some may have four. The root shapes can vary between individuals, with some wisdom teeth having fused roots, appearing as a single, cone-shaped structure. Meanwhile, others may exhibit curled or divergent root configurations.
You can find your wisdom teeth behind your second molars at the posterior end of your oral cavity. And you can expect them to emerge in four locations:
- Upper left
- Lower left
- Upper right
- Lower right
When Do They Typically Come In?
Wisdom teeth commonly erupt or emerge from the gums from ages 17 to 25. However, it’s important to note that fully impacted wisdom teeth may not be visible when examining your mouth.
How Many Wisdom Teeth Do You Typically Have?
One study indicates that approximately 53% of the general population possesses at least one wisdom tooth. And up to 70% develop impacted wisdom teeth. However, some individuals may never develop these molars.
Signs of Wisdom Teeth Emergence: What to Look Out For
When your wisdom teeth are in the process of emerging, there are specific signs and symptoms to watch for:
- Redness or Gum Swelling: Your gums behind your last molars may exhibit redness and swelling.
- Jaw Pain or Tenderness: Discomfort or tenderness in the jaw area can indicate wisdom teeth coming in.
- Facial Pain: Wisdom teeth exert nerve pressure, potentially leading to facial pain.
- White Flecks Behind Molars: The appearance of white spots behind your last molars often signifies the eruption of these new teeth through your gum tissue.
What are the Problems with Wisdom Teeth?
While some people experience trouble-free eruption of their wisdom teeth, others encounter complications, often leading to discomfort and potential oral health problems.
Here are common issues associated with our third molars:
Impaction and its Consequences
Wisdom teeth may not always emerge correctly through the gum line. In such cases, they can become impacted, causing various issues.
- Pain and Discomfort: Impaction can lead to significant pain and discomfort as it pushes against the gum tissue or adjacent teeth.
- Infections: Impacted wisdom teeth are prone to infections. The difficulty in cleaning these teeth can result in food particles and bacteria becoming trapped, potentially leading to gum infections called pericoronitis.
- Dental Problems: The pressure exerted by impacted wisdom teeth can harm adjacent teeth, causing misalignment and damage.
- Space Constraints: Limited space within the mouth can hinder the proper eruption of wisdom teeth, making early removal a preventive measure against potential problems like developing a painful horizontal wisdom tooth.
Symptoms of Wisdom Teeth Infection
Infections arising from wisdom teeth issues often manifest in several noticeable symptoms:
- Gum Inflammation: Redness and swelling in the gum area near the impacted wisdom tooth are common signs of infection.
- Facial Swelling: Swelling of the face, particularly in the cheek region, can occur due to inflammation.
- Pain and Sensitivity: Wisdom tooth infections come with stinging pain and heightened sensitivity in the affected area.
- Pus Discharge: Pus may discharge from the infected gum area, indicating the presence of an infection.
- Swollen Lymph Nodes: Swelling and tenderness of lymph nodes beneath the jaw can result from a wisdom tooth infection.
- Difficulty in Function: Patients may experience difficulty opening their mouths, swallowing, and chewing due to the discomfort caused by wisdom tooth infections.
- Fever: Sometimes, an infection may lead to a fever, signaling a systemic response to the oral issue.
What are the Best Treatment Options for Wisdom Teeth Complications?
Depending on the severity and type of issue, your dentist or oral surgeon will recommend one of the following treatments:
If you’re experiencing mild discomfort, over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers like ibuprofen can offer temporary relief. It’s often a stop-gap measure and will not replace professional dental care.
Sometimes, a wisdom tooth may become infected, causing pain and swelling. In such cases, your dentist will prescribe antibiotics to eliminate the infection.
Wisdom Tooth Extraction
Wisdom tooth extraction is often the go-to treatment for impacted or misaligned wisdom teeth. This surgical procedure removes one or more of your third molars to prevent future problems.
A simple extraction is possible when the tooth has fully erupted and is easily accessible.
If impacted or partially erupted, an oral surgeon will perform surgical extraction, which may involve cutting into the gums and removing bone to access the tooth.
Drainage for Abscesses and Cysts
Occasionally, a cyst or abscess may develop around a problematic wisdom tooth. If so, your dentist will drain the fluid and alleviate symptoms.
What to Expect During Wisdom Teeth Removal
Before deciding whether your wisdom teeth need removal, your oral health professional will likely recommend X-rays. This imaging technology helps to identify potential problems like impaction, crowding, or misalignment. Not everyone needs wisdom tooth removal, but early diagnosis via X-ray can help you and your dentist make an informed decision.
Anesthesia Options: Local vs. General
Regarding the extraction process, you’ll have anesthesia options tailored to your specific needs. If your wisdom teeth are easily accessible, a local anesthetic might be all you need to numb the area.
However, a general anesthetic may be necessary for deeply impacted teeth or other complications. Your dentist may suggest nitrous oxide, or “happy gas,” for added comfort.
What Happens During the Extraction?
Once numb, your dentist will proceed with the wisdom tooth extraction. Sometimes, they’ll use stitches to help the gums heal post-surgery. After the procedure, it’s normal to experience some discomfort, including jaw soreness, swelling, and minor bleeding.
How long before the bleeding stops after tooth extraction? It should stop between 12 and 24 hours and decrease in the first hour.
Possible Complications: The Risk of Dry Socket
One complication to watch out for is dry socket, a condition where the post-surgical wound fails to heal correctly. Symptoms include severe pain and an unpleasant odor. Smokers and individuals with poor healing abilities are more susceptible to dry sockets.
If you experience these symptoms, consult your oral health professional immediately for effective treatment options.
Post-Surgery Care: Keeping Your Mouth Healthy
After your wisdom teeth removal, proper aftercare is crucial for a smooth recovery. Here are some tips:
- Take prescribed pain medication, if necessary.
- Use gauze to help control bleeding.
- Avoid activities that might dislodge the blood clot, such as aggressive rinsing or using a straw.
- Begin gentle and warm saltwater rinses no earlier than 24 hours after surgery.
- Stick to soft foods to keep the surgical site clean.
- Do not smoke and drink alcohol for at least 48 hours post-surgery.
- Limit physical activity for a few days to avoid complications.
Why Early Removal of Problematic Wisdom Teeth Is Crucial?
Delaying the removal can lead to severe complications, including damage to adjacent teeth. An early diagnosis is essential for preventing these issues.
Typically, oral surgeons or specially trained dentists perform the surgery, and teenagers are often the best candidates for the procedure because their wisdom teeth roots are still forming, making extraction easier and recovery quicker.
How to Take Care of My Wisdom Teeth?
If you wish to keep your third molars, here are tips to help you keep them pristine:
Brush Your Teeth: The Cornerstone of Wisdom Teeth Care
While experts recommend brushing twice daily, consider going the extra mile thrice daily if you’ve got wisdom teeth. The trick here is to reach back, targeting the nooks and crannies around your wisdom teeth. A toothbrush with a long handle and a small head can be a game-changer.
For an extra layer of cleanliness, opt for a toothbrush with an angled head. It makes it easier to navigate the brush towards the back of your mouth.
The Flossing Frontier
If traditional flossing is challenging, use dental picks or interproximal brushes designed to fit between teeth. These tools can be a great addition to your dental hygiene arsenal, especially for those hard-to-reach wisdom teeth.
Regular Dental Check-ups: Your Wisdom Teeth’s Health Meter
Remember, your regular dental check-ups are like pit stops for your mouth, and this includes special attention to your wisdom teeth. Inform your dentist if you feel any discomfort or if you have any concerns regarding your third molars. Early intervention can prevent a lot of potential issues down the road.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What are wisdom teeth, and why do we have them?
A: Wisdom teeth are the last set of molars situated at the back of your mouth. They are evolutionary relics, harking back to our ancestors’ diets, consisting of rougher foods like roots, leaves, and raw meat that required more extensive chewing. In today’s society, where our diets have become softer and our jaws smaller, wisdom teeth often lack the necessary space to emerge, leading to various dental issues.
Q: When do wisdom teeth usually emerge, and why can it be problematic?
A: They begin to emerge between 17 and 25, although this timeline can vary among individuals. Their late arrival often poses problems due to a lack of space in the modern human jaw. It can lead to stinging pain, inflammation, infection, and even damage to neighboring teeth. Many individuals undergo wisdom teeth extraction, a standard dental procedure to address these issues.
Q: Is wisdom tooth extraction necessary for everyone?
A: Whether you need your wisdom teeth removed depends on various factors, including their position, size, and whether they are causing any problems. Some people may have enough space in their jaws for their wisdom teeth to emerge without causing issues, while others may need removal due to pain, infection, or potential complications.
Q: What is the process of wisdom tooth extraction like?
A: You’ll receive local anesthesia or sedation to ensure you’re comfortable and pain-free during the extraction. Your dentist will then make an incision in the surrounding gum tissues of the wisdom tooth, remove any bone that’s blocking access, and extract it. Afterward, they’ll stitch up the incision and provide post-operative care instructions.
Q: What are the complications linked to wisdom tooth extraction?
A: Infection, bleeding, swelling, and temporary or permanent nerve damage that may affect sensation in the lower lip, tongue, or chin are some of the potential complications of extracting your wisdom tooth. However, these complications are relatively rare, and most people recover without significant issues when they carefully follow their dentist’s post-operative instructions.
Have Your Wisdom Teeth Checked with Dr. Mexico
Although there are benefits of keeping wisdom teeth, they aren’t essential features of the mouth, making their removal a rite of passage for many individuals worldwide. If yours erupt in alignment with your existing molars and don’t cause any problems, you needn’t do anything. But if you wish to remove or learn more about them, consult with one of our many experts in Dr. Mexico.