Wisdom teeth are one of those bizarre little human traits that have kind of gone out of style. Although our ancestors needed their wisdom teeth, today, we don’t need them as much. These back molars were like the teeth' spare tires in days of yore, allowing people to have enough teeth to grind up food even if they lost a few. Between the poor diet and lack of dental hygiene, losing teeth was expected. Since the ancient diet depended on a lot of meat consumption, those molars were also needed to break down sinew.
Today, the evolution of diet and the introduction of simple dental hygiene have made wisdom teeth obsolete. So, for the most part, we don’t really need them anymore. But does that mean we have to remove them? Well, yes and no. The main issue with wisdom teeth is that our mouths have become much smaller. As a result, many people don’t have room for them. That leads to trouble, including pain and risk for infection. So, here’s what you need to know about wisdom teeth and if they need to be removed.
Wisdom Teeth and Age
Wisdom teeth begin to develop between the ages of 7 to 10, but don’t begin to “erupt” until you are much older. On average, they make an appearance between the ages of 17 to 21. We keep an eye on their progression to look for signs that extraction is required. The age we usually end up recommending extraction is between 18 and 24, and for a good reason. Not only will you be experiencing more symptoms from your wisdom teeth by this time, but you are also at the prime age for healing. That means you will heal quicker, with reduced risk of pain, inflammation, or infection. As well, your wisdom teeth are still underdeveloped, creating the perfect timing for removal.
Does everyone have wisdom teeth?
As evolution has proceeded, one of the interesting results is that not everyone has wisdom teeth. In fact, while some people will have all four, others will have one, two, three or, ideally, none.
Why should wisdom teeth be removed?
For some lucky people, wisdom teeth might erupt without causing a single issue. They grow in just like their other teeth and don’t require any special attention at all. Because most people don’t have room for their wisdom teeth, however, they tend to grow crooked. This puts pressure on your other teeth, which will eventually cause them to shift and become contorted. While not everyone will have issues with their wisdom teeth, about 85% will. This can include the teeth never erupting from the gums, which can lead to the teeth becoming “impacted.” Impacted wisdom teeth have their own set of issues, which can lead to infection, cysts, and bacterial growth. Because of this, we will often recommend removal when the time is right.
Why are impacted wisdom teeth so bad?
When wisdom teeth don’t fully erupt properly, or even partially erupt, they become impacted. Impacted wisdom teeth cannot complete eruption in an upright position. They can tilt forward, or in some cases might even move completely sideways, which can be very dangerous. The pressure placed on your surrounding teeth is not only painful, but can also lead to issues such as forcing them to shift, become crowded, and even overlap and look crooked. Because the tooth remains mostly beneath the gums, it often sits in its “developmental sac.” This is not ideal, as it provides a breeding ground for bacteria, leading to infections, cysts, and abscesses. Severe infections can spread and be fatal. So, for the most part, it’s not worth the risk of “seeing how things go” when it comes to impacted wisdom teeth!
Between the ages of 18 and 24, most people’s wisdom tooth roots are about two-thirds of their full-grown size. That makes it easier and safer to remove the tooth and roots. Once the root forms completely, the extraction is more difficult and can be far more painful and riskier for complications. When the root is underdeveloped, the extractions can be performed with local anesthesia, which is safer than having to go under general anesthesia.
When are extractions not necessary?
Extractions are not needed if your wisdom teeth are:
- Fully erupted
- Positioned correctly
- Can bite properly with their opposing teeth
- Able to be brushed, flossed, and professionally cleaned
- Impacted wisdom teeth that do not do harm
If you can see your teeth are partially erupted, don’t get your hopes up. As mentioned, partially erupted wisdom teeth can still become impacted or infected. Because they are hard to keep clean, they are magnets for bacteria, which can quickly lead to infection or gum disease. This can affect your oral health, which otherwise would have remained perfectly fine.
Symptoms You Have Wisdom Teeth Woes
Sometimes, you might be experiencing wisdom teeth symptoms and not even realize it. If you have any of the following issues, then speak to our team:
- Repeated infection behind the lower last tooth
- Damage to nearby teeth
- Gum disease
- Extensive tooth decay
When it comes to pain, you might be surprised where it can occur, including:
- Neck or shoulder pain
- Tender gums
- Throbbing or rotating pain in the neck, back of the mouth, or head
- Achy jaw
- Pain in teeth surrounding the wisdom tooth
- Facial pain
- Ear pain
So, it really is important to pay attention to these symptoms and mention them to our team. The more issues you experience, the more likely it is that the symptoms are pointing to wisdom teeth as the culprit.
As with any dental treatment, we look at all the symptoms and your specific situation before making a recommendation. While removing wisdom teeth might seem extreme, we will discuss why it makes sense for you so you can make an informed decision about your treatment.
If you would like more information about wisdom teeth, feel free to set up a free consultation with our team today.