What’s so wise about wisdom teeth?

We’ve had several young people in our office this past summer to have their wisdom teeth evaluated and sometimes removed. Wisdom teeth are the third set of molars furthest back in your mouth and are the last teeth to develop and erupt, often around the ages of 18-25. They were given the term “teeth of wisdom” back in the 17th century because these teeth erupted during mid-adulthood, or the “Age of Wisdom.”

wisdom teeth

Our early ancestors used these teeth more often for a few reasons:

1) they often lost adult teeth early due to decay, infection, or fractures, and these extra molars filled in the empty spaces in the back of the mouth and

2) they often had broader jaws, and these “extra” teeth helped them grind down much coarser and tougher foods than we have today.

These days, teenagers and people in their early 20s are rarely called “wise” – but wisdom teeth still come in, whether we have room for them or not!

While nearly 35 percent of the population never develops these teeth, most of us still do – in jaws that are no longer wide enough to accommodate them. Many people need to have their wisdom teeth removed. Here’s why:

  • Wisdom teeth are commonly impacted, meaning they haven’t had room to erupt normally into the mouth and instead grow at an angle under the gums, sometimes staying trapped (impacted) in the jawbone. Some grow sideways in the jaw, crowding and damaging the teeth next to them.
  • Many wisdom teeth grow partway out of the gums, creating hard-to-clean areas that are highly susceptible to bacteria. Increased bacteria in these areas often causes pain, and can lead to a host of more serious problems, including inflammation, infection, tooth decay, and gum disease.
  • Because wisdom teeth are so far back in the mouth, it can be difficult to keep these teeth clean and healthy, even if they have erupted normally and fully into the mouth. If these teeth develop cavities or gum disease, it is often better to remove them before they begin to cause problems for the neighboring molars.

In our practice, we recommend that wisdom teeth be evaluated during the mid-to late teen years. We often take a panoramic x-ray to better visualize these teeth in the jaw. Not all wisdom teeth need to be removed. But if problems are noticed, we often recommend that the teeth are removed before the roots have fully developed for easier extraction.

With wisdom teeth that are fully grown into the mouth, we can often pull them quite simply in our office with minimal cost and minimal difficulty. If a tooth is impacted, we usually refer the patient to be evaluated and treated by an oral surgeon. In some situations, tissue or bone are also removed in order to access and remove the tooth.

Some surgeons offer higher levels of sedation to keep patients comfortable during more complicated procedures. If we recommend that you or your child see an oral surgeon, we’ll help you understand what to expect, and we’re happy to answer any questions you might have prior to your visit to the surgeon.

If you are aware of some pesky wisdom teeth that may need to be removed, give us a call. For your teenagers, it’s not too early to book time for those extractions to be done during a school break like Thanksgiving or Christmas.

Allow for a few days to recover after wisdom teeth are taken out, and pay close attention to the doctor’s orders about post-operative precautions, like what kinds of food to avoid and how to take any recommended medications!

The wisest move is to have these teeth checked before they cause any problems!