Wisdom Teeth: What are they?

Wisdom Teeth
Wisdom teeth, or third molars, do not always erupt properly when they decide to make an appearance. It’s wise to get an early opinion from your dentist on getting wisdom teeth pulled before they become impacted, causing pain, swelling, infection, cavities or gum disease.

Why don’t wisdom teeth grow in right?

Although we have seen a reduction in the size of the human jaw during the course of human evolution, we still retain the same number of teeth. The change in jaw size of modern humans is related to the discovery and use of fire to prepare food, and the development of crude tools, such as blades, to process food. These advances not only enhanced the culinary skills and diet of early humans, they significantly lightened the workload of the jaw. The result? As the need for a powerful jaw vanished, the jaw became smaller, and the teeth became crowded, the space required for the proper growth of wisdom teeth, no longer available. (The modern, human mouth is too small to accommodate wisdom teeth, which make their appearance in young adults between the ages of 15-25.)

What does “impacted” mean?

When wisdom teeth don’t have room to grow or they haven’t reached their final position by age 25, they are considered impacted-no place to go and no plans to grow. Third molar impaction is the most prevalent medical developmental disorder. A full set of healthy teeth sometimes doesn’t leave much room for wisdom teeth to erupt.

What kind of problems can impacted third molars cause?

Partially erupted wisdom teeth are breeding grounds for bacteria and germs and may lead to infection. In addition to jaw pain and gum disease, which may also develop, impacted third molars are ripe sites for the growth of tumors and cysts. Not all wisdom teeth cause problems, however.

Can’t I just use an antibiotic?

Antibiotics only soothe infected wisdom teeth for a short time. Since people frequently use a wide variety of antibiotics, the infection may be resistant to such medication and doesn’t solve the real problem: The tooth can’t fit in your mouth.

When is removal necessary?

It isn’t wise to wait until they bother you. Early removal, as advised by your dentist, is generally recommended to avoid problems, such as an impacted tooth that destroys the second molar. People younger than 16 heal easier too. At an early age, you dentist should take an evaluation in order to track third molar development with the help of X-rays. Second molars should be visible to lessen the chance of damaging them during surgery. This occurs at age 11 or 12, so the decision to remove wisdom teeth is made with proof they cannot erupt into an acceptable position.

What if I don’t have any symptoms?

People with symptoms of impaction, such as pain, swelling and infection should have their wisdom teeth removed immediately. However, those with no symptoms can avoid the chance of ever suffering from the pain of impacted wisdom teeth. Still, to achieve better orthodontic treatment results by having them removed. Asymptomatic impacted wisdom teeth also should be removed to reduce the chance of unexplained pain. Further more to accommodate prosthetic appliances, or avoid cavities, periodontal disease, bone shrinkage and tumor development.

How is the tooth removed?

Surgery for impacted wisdom teeth consists of the following:

  • removing of the gum tissue over the tooth
  • gently stripping connective tissue away from the tooth and bone
  • removing the tooth and sewing the gum back up.
William Howard, DMD, MAGD; “The management of third molar teeth,” Dentoalveolar Surgery, February 1993;
“Impacted lower wisdom tooth: To remove or to leave alone,” Dental Update, July/August 1994;
“Surgical removal of third molars,” British Medical Journal, September 1994; “Impactations: Observe or Treat?” West Virginia Dental Journal, October 1994;
“Diseases and lesions associated with third molars,” Oral Surgery Oral Medicine Oral Pathology, February 1995;
“Early removal of wisdom teeth can prevent an array of problems,” Georgia Dental Association Action, March 1994;
“Patient’s anxieties with third molar surgery,” British Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, October 1994;
“Symptoms from impacted wisdom teeth,” British Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, December 1994;
“Infections in elderly patients associated with impacted third molars,” Oral Surgery Oral Medicine Oral Pathology, February 1995.