Becky Larson, RDH
What’s the Deal with Wisdom Teeth?
Everyone has them, but not everybody knows what to do with them. “Wisdom teeth” or 3rd molars can cause a number of problems in the mouth.
Wisdom teeth are believed to be evolutionary and were helpful to our distant ancestors who frequently ate rougher foods. Wisdom teeth would erupt as replacements for worn out or missing teeth. Nowadays modern advancements, better hygiene, and softer diets allow us to keep most of our teeth so we really don’t need wisdom teeth at all! For most people, wisdom teeth erupt in the late teen years or early 20’s, usually earlier for females. They are the most posterior (towards the back) teeth. Most people have 4 wisdom teeth total, but sometimes they can be congenitally missing. Other times people may have extra (supernumerary) wisdom teeth.
Even if there is sufficient space in the mouth and the wisdom teeth are in alignment with the other teeth, they can still cause problems. Because of their location, wisdom teeth are extremely hard to brush and floss. If they are not kept clean, they can cause periodontal pocketing, which can lead to tooth loss in other areas of the mouth. Unfortunately, most people don’t have enough space and when wisdom teeth erupt, they can push on the surrounding teeth. This can cause crowding and misalignment throughout the entire mouth. Wisdom teeth can also be impacted – meaning they are enclosed in the gum tissue or jawbone. When this happens they can partially erupt or even try to erupt horizontally. When teeth are only partially erupted, it allows bacteria to enter the tooth. This can lead to infection, pain, swelling, jaw soreness, cysts, and other systemic illnesses.
X-ray showing impacted wisdom teeth:
A dentist will usually take a panoramic x-ray to view the wisdom teeth to determine when/if they need to be extracted. If extractions are indicated, getting them out at a younger age is preferable for recovery time. If wisdom teeth are fully erupted and not impacted in the gums or bone, they can be extracted as easily as a regular tooth. If they are impacted, the gums and/or bone need to be cut open in order to extract. Wisdom teeth can be extracted with local anesthetic only, though other pain/anxiety management techniques can be used. These include nitrous oxide, conscious sedation, and/or anti-anxiety pre-medication.
Recovering time is usually about 2 weeks. During the recover a person may experience bleeding and facial swelling. Pain medications and antibiotics are often prescribed as well. Possible complications of wisdom teeth extractions include dry socket and parasthesia. Dry socket occurs when a blood clot fails to form or falls out and is extremely painful. A person should not drink from a straw for several days after the extractions to avoid dry socket. During wisdom teeth extractions the nerves can sometimes become damaged or bruised. This results in prolonged numbness or parasthesia, which can last weeks or months and can sometimes be permanent. Parasthesia is more rare and generally the numbing sensation wears off after several hours. Dry socket and/or parasthesia don’t always occur after wisdom teeth are extracted.
So you can see that wisdom teeth can cause many headaches (literally)! Be wise and get your wisdom teeth extracted as soon as your dentist recommends it.
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picture from: http://www.quora.com/Do-all-humans-have-wisdom-teeth