Even if you’ve never gotten your own wisdom teeth (or third molars), chances are you’ve heard of them, or you’ve heard friends or family regale you with tales of their extraction. Wisdom teeth are the third set of molars that grow in the very back of your mouth.
Though it is possible to get up to four total wisdom teeth, many people never get more than one or two, while others get none at all. And while some people can successfully keep their wisdom teeth, an estimated 85 percent of all wisdom teeth end up needing to be extracted. So, what exactly are wisdom teeth, and why do our bodies go through the trouble of growing them only to have them removed shortly thereafter? Here’s everything you ever wanted to know (and maybe some stuff you didn’t) about wisdom teeth.
The presence of wisdom teeth hearkens back to the days when early man had a mouth big enough to comfortably accommodate 32 teeth (scientists estimate about 100 million years ago). They initially were used for gnashing tough-to-chew foods like plants, roots and some meats. Over time as the human body changed shape, the jaw changed shape too. Eventually, those useful third molars became obsolete as humans developed better tools and utensils to assist with eating. Today, wisdom teeth are often nothing more than a nuisance to the bearer, creating challenges with brushing and in some cases throwing off the alignment of a previously perfect smile, or even decaying and taking nearby healthy teeth with them.
Third molars were dubbed "wisdom teeth" for the age in which they typically appear (between the ages of 17 and 25) when many young adults are attending college or "seeking wisdom." Though scientists aren’t quite sure why they grow in at such an advanced age, some theorize that they served as back-up teeth for early man, who may have lost his other molars due to decay or damage. Today, however, wisdom teeth are often set too far back in the mouth to be useful, and instead cause a host of problems, requiring their extraction.
You may have heard the word "impacted" used to describe wisdom teeth. This is when your wisdom tooth is trying to erupt but gets blocked by other teeth on its way through the gums. In addition to possibly being uncomfortable and infected, impaction carries with it the risk of a secondary condition called pericoronitis, which is a serious infection that can eventually spread to the neck and throat and may require surgery to correct. Impacted wisdom teeth can also get cavities, even if they don’t erupt, and can cause you to develop growths or cysts on your jaw.
It is for all these reasons that once wisdom teeth appear, many people prefer to have them removed, even if they are healthy and not yet causing problems. There are several options for wisdom teeth extraction, depending on the location of the wisdom teeth. If the wisdom teeth have already erupted, a simple extraction may be possible; however, if they are impacted, most likely a surgical extraction will be required. With each option there is a variety of sedation and anesthesia options, which you can discuss with the dentist prior to your extraction.
If you have any further questions about wisdom teeth, or are concerned you may need your wisdom teeth removed, give Dr. Hill’s office a call at 469-640-9550.