Wisdom Teeth: Why We Have Them and When to Remove Them

Wisdom Teeth: Why We Have Them and When to Remove Them

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Wisdom teeth typically emerge between the ages of 18 and 21. Some people will have all four wisdom teeth erupt, while others may only see one or two emerge behind their last molars. Some young adults may not have any wisdom teeth at all. Genetics and ethnicity primarily determine who does and does not get wisdom teeth.

What are Wisdom Teeth?

Anthropologists suggest that wisdom teeth were once essential for grinding and chewing raw, tough foods that comprised the diet of our early ancestors. The invention of fire eventually allowed us to cook and soften these foods.

Ultimately, we began to depend less and less on wisdom teeth for chewing food, evolving beyond our need to rely on a third set of molars. However, we pass on genes for wisdom teeth, much like we still carry genes for developing an appendix or tailbone. Which means, most of us will have at least one wisdom tooth.

When Dental X-rays Show Wisdom Teeth That Haven’t Erupted

Just because you have wisdom teeth embedded below the gumline doesn’t mean they will emerge. Oral x-rays can tell a dentist whether unerupted wisdom teeth need to be removed. The main reason for extracting wisdom teeth is their positioning beneath the gumline.

In most cases, wisdom teeth that fail to come in are either lying sideways or cannot emerge due to space restrictions. The clinical term used by dentists for describing abnormally positioned wisdom teeth is “impacted”. Nearly all cases of wisdom teeth removal are due to impaction.

Impacted Wisdom Tooth Symptoms

Impacted wisdom teeth can be painful. What’s worse is that they can easily become infected. Signs of pericoronitis (infection of impacted wisdom teeth) include:

• Painful, swollen gums
• Puss discharge and/or bleeding around the affected area
• Bad breath that can’t be brushed or rinsed away
• Swollen lymph nodes and low-grade fever
• Inability to chew using molars because of severe pain

Before removing impacted wisdom teeth, dentists may prescribe an antibiotic to eliminate infection. Extracting impacted wisdom teeth during an active infection could cause the infection to spread into other areas of the body.

According to the American Dental Association, wisdom teeth should be removed if they become infected, cause damage other teeth, or show signs of decay. Neglecting to get impacted wisdom teeth removed may cause more serious oral infections.

Should So-called “Healthy” Wisdom Teeth Be Removed?

Even if your wisdom teeth emerge normally or have been detected on x-rays and seem to be posing no problem, you should still consider wisdom teeth removal to avoid future dental issues. Wisdom teeth can reposition themselves at any time while embedded in gums. This can quickly lead to impaction and infection.

Wisdom teeth are also more prone to developing cavities than other teeth. These teeth sit very far back in the mouth and can be hard to reach. Many people have difficulty brushing and flossing the area properly, so wisdom teeth tend to develop cavities faster than other teeth.

Is Wisdom Teeth Removal Painful?

Many people have anxiety about dental procedures and surgery. Discussing your care options and comfort level with your doctor is the best way to have a successful extraction.

If wisdom teeth have begun to erupt it’s likely that your extraction will be done without sedation. Instead, your mouth will be numbed with injections of a dental anesthetic. You may feel a tugging or pulling sensation during the procedure but no pain.

Most patients experience numbness for several hours after. This is followed by minimal discomfort for a few days that can be relieved with over-the-counter pain relievers.

Surgical removal of embedded wisdom teeth may require patients be given general anesthesia. This is particularly true for those who need all four wisdom teeth extracted. Sedation for wisdom teeth usually lasts for about an hour.

Recovering from wisdom tooth removal usually takes about two days. Depending on the number of teeth being extracted, your dentist may prescribe pain medication to be taken after the anesthesia wears off.

Call Hamburg Dental Care today to schedule an examination appointment or to learn more about wisdom teeth removal.