Wisdom teeth, your third set of molars, can cause a lot of problems and discomfort. They usually begin to erupt between the ages of 17 and 25, and this process can be accompanied by unpleasant symptoms that come and go, including pain, inflammation, cysts, trismus, and swelling. Can we avoid the obnoxious ailments associated with growing wisdom teeth? If patients and dentists are so eager to remove them, why do they even exist?
What Are Molars & What Is Their Function?
Third molars are the remains of our ancestors, no longer useful today, and not everyone has them. Wisdom teeth might look different than the rest of your teeth, often having an unusual shape and size. They have two or three roots and are located at the end of each side of the maxilla and mandible, which makes them difficult and often impossible to clean properly. They are not easy to reach with a toothbrush, which is why their health is often compromised by decay faster than your remaining teeth.
Molars are your strongest teeth. They are the flat teeth in the back of your mouth and evolutionarily exist for the pure pleasure of crushing and grinding. The chewing teeth break down food before swallowing and are the second point of contact with food after your front teeth take the bite. Humans have eight molars and an additional third set of molars that erupts in adulthood, which is your wisdom teeth.
Why Do We Call Them Wisdom Teeth?
Wisdom teeth derive their name from the mature age at which they first appear. The term “teeth of wisdom” initially came about in the Seventeenth Century and later became the “wisdom teeth” in the Nineteenth Century.
They are not entirely functionless – if kept healthy and growing properly, wisdom teeth perform their molar function when chewing and grinding food. Many medical and dental professionals consider wisdom teeth vestigial, meaning they historically had a function but not anymore. According to anthropologists, wisdom teeth served a purpose when our ancestor’s diet was quite primitive and included raw plants, hard meats, and nuts. Their function was necessary for proper digestion. Today, with the use of utensils and different methods of food preparation, the need for wisdom teeth has been eliminated, and many of those changes impacted our evolution, such as smaller jaws that sometimes are too small for third molars.
Should You Get Rid Of Your Wisdom Teeth?
There are various opinions in the dental community regarding the extraction of wisdom teeth. It certainly has to be done when there is not enough room for them in your mouth, when they threaten the well-being of adjacent teeth, or when they are heavily attacked by caries. Your wisdom teeth may not erupt at all or not completely, and their growth is often accompanied by pain and inflammation. More often than not, wisdom tooth extraction is necessary.
If your wisdom teeth are not besieged with decay, do not cause inflammation of the gums, and do not interfere with other teeth, you might get away with extracting them altogether. You will have to take extra good care of the hopeless molars and report to the dentist for your regular bi-yearly checkups, so they can routinely inspect your teeth for any disturbances.
Wisdom teeth that grow incorrectly or crookedly can overlap adjacent teeth, hurt the cheek, and contribute to the formation of malocclusions in your mouth. Third molars requiring removal are usually those that are partially or completely impacted, which happens when they do not grow upwards but are stuck to the jawbone. The decision to extract a wisdom tooth may be supported by the fact that it deteriorates significantly or causes nagging pain that nothing relieves. Quite commonly, wisdom teeth are removed before starting orthodontic treatment.
If you are ready to have your wisdom tooth or teeth pulled out, consider visiting an experienced specialist with a well-equipped practice. A wisdom tooth is not the easiest tooth to extract. This should be done by an oral surgeon, especially if the tooth is impacted. Before the procedure, your dentist will perform a series of examinations, which should include taking dental X-rays. A wisdom tooth is usually removed utilizing mechanical chiseling and surgical forceps. The procedure is performed under local anesthesia (in exceptional circumstances, a general anesthetic may be required), so the removal itself, although unpleasant, is safe and painless. If your teeth are impacted, your dentist will perform an incision. The extensive wound that has formed takes longer to heal compared to extracting ordinary teeth. Usually, but not always, the site of removal will be stitched up. A few hours after the procedure, pain and swelling might appear when the anesthetic wears off, which should pass within the next few days. Make sure always to follow your dentist’s post-operative instructions and recommendations. Painkillers and cold compresses on the cheek may help. Suppose the pain will not go away after several days or even intensifies, and if you develop a fever or general weakness. In that case, you should contact your dentists as soon as possible to rule out any complications.
Serious but rare complications after a wisdom tooth extraction include:
- Fracture of another tooth,
- Damage to the jaw,
- Infection of the socket.
Advantages Of Keeping Your Wisdom Teeth
Wisdom tooth removal may not always be necessary, even if your dentist recommends the extraction. If the molars are not negatively impacting your oral health, you might be doing yourself and your mouth a favor by keeping them intact. When your wisdom teeth erupt correctly, they provide abutment in the back of your mouth and promote a healthy jawbone structure, which will benefit your TMJ’s health (temporomandibular joint). You and your dentist should together come up with a game plan in both scenarios when you are ready to have your tooth extracted or in case of keeping your wisdom teeth intact. Sometimes your dentist, considering your unique oral condition, might recommend removing the wisdom teeth as a preventative measure.