What are Wisdom Teeth?
With age comes wisdom ... or at least wisdom teeth. What are wisdom teeth, and why do we have them? Here are five common questions and answers:
1. What are wisdom teeth?
Wisdom teeth are the third and final molars to emerge, located on each side of the back of the mouth in upper and lower locations. There are typically four wisdom teeth total.
2. Where do they get their name?
Wisdom teeth received their name because they typically come through for a person between the ages of 17 to 21 when people are thought to be getting wiser. Interesting to note: Wisdom teeth actually begin growing in the jaw around age seven, unlike the rest of teeth which have already begun growing under the gums before or at birth.
3. What do we use them for?
Dentists remain uncertain about the function of these teeth since wisdom teeth are not necessary for chewing. And they have no other clear job to do. Some doctors believe that, at one time, wisdom teeth replaced molars worn out from years of eating a harsher diet. Today, however, our diet is fairly soft, and there is little to no need to replace molars.
4. Why do so many people have them removed?
The adult mouth typically holds 28 teeth comfortably. Once the wisdom teeth have emerged, a person has 32 teeth, which can lead to painful crowding or regular discomfort. Additionally, wisdom teeth can remain impacted — or stuck under the gums — or only emerge partially or come in crooked. Each of these complications can lead to infection or disease. Because of this — and because removing teeth before they develop deep roots leads to fewer complication — it's a good idea to have wisdom teeth evaluated by a dentist as soon as they emerge to see if they will need to be removed. If someone has had braces or a retainer, it is especially a good idea to be evaluated since wisdom teeth can undo the teeth-straightening work that was done by the dental device.
5. What are potential complications associated with removal?
Because wisdom teeth themselves often create complications, the most common treatment is extraction. This procedure can happen at a local oral surgeon's office. Wisdom teeth that have emerged can be removed relatively easily and effectively. Wisdom teeth that are impacted require an incision in the gums to remove the teeth. Sometimes complications can arise if bone is covering the tooth, but removing wisdom teeth is the focus for many oral surgeons, and preparations are in place to address any complications that could arise.
It should be noted that, if you need to have your wisdom teeth removed — or if you are experiencing pain or discomfort — putting it off will likely make things worse. Roots continue to grow with time, meaning the longer you put off wisdom teeth removal, the more difficult the surgery and/or recovery could become.