Wisdom teeth refer to the teeth located furthest in the mouth and are otherwise known as third molars. The name comes from the fact that these teeth are the latest teeth to erupt, coming in sometime between the late teen years and the early twenties, ages that are associated with the idea of maturity and wisdom. Usually there are four wisdom teeth, one on each quadrant of the mouth (upper right, lower right, upper left, and lower left), however, some people are lucky to be born with fewer than four, and others are born without wisdom teeth at all!
Problems with Wisdom Teeth
Wisdom teeth removal is unnecessary if the patient has enough room in their mouth for the teeth to grow in a correct position that would be harmless to the surrounding areas. However, because they are located in the back of the mouth, it is difficult to brush, floss, and keep wisdom teeth clean. It is important to note that if they are not removed, great care and attention should be made to those teeth. Highly prone to cavity formation, wisdom teeth are dangerous to neighboring teeth because cavities that begin on wisdom teeth can spread and infect others.
Complications may arise if a patient’s mouth is small and doesn’t have enough space for the wisdom teeth to grow into. This may result in impacted (stuck) teeth, which includes any of the following scenarios:
- The crown (visible part of the tooth) is completely erupted through the jawbone, but the gums are still partly covering the tooth because they aren’t able to properly grow around it. Food can easily get stuck underneath the gums and around the tooth, fostering bacterial growth and resulting in cavity formation. Additionally, germs that get stuck under the gums can also cause infection of the gums, or periodontal disease.
- The crown is partially erupted, meaning half of it is still under the jawbone. Like the previous case, it is difficult to clean the tooth and an infection or a cavity can occur.
- The crown is completely covered in the bone and cannot erupt through. This is usually the case if there is no room for the tooth to grow into. Sometimes the tooth grows sideways underneath the bone, pushing into the tooth next to it! This is considered to be a more complicated case than the first two scenarios and can cause bone loss, cysts, tumors, infection, as well as damage to nearby teeth.
Exam and Evaluation
Wisdom teeth development is different for each person. A dental exam will determine whether an extraction is necessary. First, a panoramic x-ray is taken to show the presence and the positioning of the wisdom teeth. A dentist then evaluates whether there are active infections or abnormalities on and around the teeth, and whether there is danger of possible future complications. If any of these are diagnosed, then the removal of the wisdom teeth will be highly recommended.
It is best to check wisdom teeth as early as the teen years so that preventative measures can be taken, if necessary. Extracting wisdom teeth is easier on a young adult than an older adult. Firstly, the roots of third molars in young adults have not fully developed yet, and the bone around them is less dense, making the actual removal of the teeth easier. Secondly, young adults have a shorter healing time simply because their bodies are able to heal quicker. As with any other preventative procedure, the earlier the better!