- Understand what wisdom teeth are and the history of the wisdom tooth
- Learn what third molar agenesis is and what it means for you
- Explore wisdom tooth removal and when it may be necessary for you
What are wisdom teeth?
Wisdom teeth, often referred to as third molars, are the final set of teeth to erupt, coming in right behind the first and second set of molars in your mouth. If all four wisdom teeth come through, they bring your total tooth count from 28 to 32 total teeth. Wisdom teeth begin forming when you are around 7, can usually be seen through an x-ray when you are around 12 years old and are fully formed around the age of 18.
Why are they called wisdom teeth?
Unlike your other teeth, wisdom teeth do not emerge through the gums until you are in your late teens or early 20s. This is the time when most young adults are attending college or transitioning into adulthood and gaining new wisdom. Wisdom teeth received their name because it is during this transition of wisdom that they begin to erupt.
Why do we have wisdom teeth?
If we look back at early humans, their diet was much different than the foods we eat today. They didn’t have utensils that cut food and most lacked the ability to cook and soften food, meaning that eating and a lack of oral health and hygiene took a greater toll on the natural teeth. One belief is wisdom teeth were designed as a late replacement for lost teeth and provided a new chewing surface. At that time, the human jaw was also larger, allowing for 32 teeth. Today, however, the human mouth typically only has space for 28 teeth, meaning that there is rarely enough space for wisdom teeth, and they often create more harm than good.
Why do some people not have wisdom teeth?
While you may think it is inevitable that you will have wisdom teeth, the fact is not everyone does. In fact, studies show that an estimated 5% to 37% of people are missing at least one if not all of their wisdom teeth. While the reason for these missing teeth is unknown, researchers believe that genetics, environment, diet, and chewing function can play a role in your lack of wisdom teeth development.
Third molar agenesis vs. impacted tooth
If you are missing wisdom teeth, this is referred to as third molar agenesis, meaning the tooth never actually developed. But just because you don’t see a tooth, doesn’t mean that one isn’t there. As we mentioned, the modern adult mouth typically only has enough room for 28 teeth. When a wisdom tooth develops without room to erupt, this results in an impacted or partially impacted wisdom tooth, meaning the tooth is trapped underneath your gums or in the jawbone. When this occurs, it can increase your risk of trapped bacteria around the tooth and surrounding teeth, leading to tooth decay, gum disease, and other dental concerns. When this occurs, wisdom tooth removal is often necessary.
Wisdom teeth removal
While some people may have enough room for wisdom teeth to erupt and experience no dental concerns as a result of their wisdom teeth, the majority of people will experience complications such as impacted teeth or a partial eruption that can contribute to complications down the road. In addition, some can experience a pain-free eruption, but the tooth comes in at an odd angle which, over time, can affect the surrounding teeth and cause tooth shift, which can affect your biting ability.
If your dentist determines wisdom teeth extraction is necessary, you will need oral surgery. During the procedure, an oral surgeon will administer anesthesia before making a small incision in the gums to remove the tooth. Once the tooth is removed sutures are put in place and the area will heal within a few days.
When should they be removed?
If your wisdom tooth is impacted or partially erupted, your dentist will likely recommend immediate extraction. The earlier you have a wisdom tooth extraction, the easier it is. This is because the bones around the tooth are softer, and the nerves are not yet completely formed, making it an easier and less painful procedure.
When should they stay?
If your wisdom teeth emerge without any initial impact on your surrounding teeth, your dentist will likely monitor your teeth and recommend surgery if the position of the wisdom teeth changes or causes pain or other complications. Some people experience no issues and are able to live their life with the third set of molars.
When do you need to see a dentist?
If you are in your late teens to early 20s and your dentist has identified wisdom teeth through x-rays, some common complications you need to watch out for include:
- Minor toothache pain in the back of the mouth that can come and go, much like teething pain seen with children when new teeth erupt. You may also experience jaw pain when eating.
- Swelling and redness at the back of your gum line
- Extreme pain in the back of your mouth is often a sign of an impacted tooth
- A cyst in the back of the mouth can also be a sign of an impacted tooth
- Cavities in the back molars due to trapped bacteria
- Changes in your bite as teeth begin to shift
- Unexplained bad breath that can indicate infection
If you experience any of these symptoms, you should contact your dentist as soon as possible so they can evaluate your need for possible wisdom teeth extractions.
Regular dental exams can help you plan for your wisdom teeth
During your childhood, routine dentistry and regular dental exams can help you maintain quality dental health and plan for your wisdom teeth. Through standard x-rays, your dentist can see your wisdom teeth develop and determine whether you may be at risk for complications and plan accordingly. While wisdom teeth extraction is not always necessary, regular dental exams can identify potential concerns before you experience possible complications from your wisdom teeth.
At New Leaf Rohnert Park, we understand that the idea of wisdom teeth and potential oral surgery can contribute to stress and anxiety. Our caring team is here to walk you through every step of the process in a comfortable setting. To learn more about wisdom teeth care and removal, contact our team today.