What are Wisdom Teeth?
A wisdom tooth is just another way of saying your third molar tooth.
The only reason I can think of this nickname, is because they don’t develop till your late teens (a lot later than all your other teeth), by which time you are theoretically ‘wiser’ or more mature. At least- wiser than when your second molars came through at the tender age of 13.
Some people are born without wisdom teeth- they are the most common teeth to be naturally absent. Fortunately, since they often cause problems, this can often be a bit of a blessing.
Personally, I don’t have my lower 3rd molars – they never grew and my top ones are deeply impacted in my head- somewhere far away- where hopefully they will stay all nice and quiet.
In this series we will look specifically at wisdom teeth and any special problems or considerations that they may have.
When it comes to having your wisdom extracted, keep in mind this procedure is just the another extraction (with a specific name 🙂 so the reading the dental extraction series will give you some much needed extra information. The blue links you see dotted throughout the text, will help take you to the most relevant places. Any information specifically about wisdom teeth will be included here.
Why do Wisdom Teeth Cause so many Problems?
The reason that wisdom teeth often give problems, is because there generally isn’t enough space for them to come through nicely, and as a result they often become impacted. They may never come through, come only part way through the gum, or come through out of position, over to one side. Add this to the fact that they are the furthest tooth back in the mouth, meaning the hardest to keep clean and most difficult for the dentist to get to and you can begin to see why they are often troublesome.
If the jawbone is straight, the tooth tends to want to come in straight, but most people run out of room behind their second molars and the jaw begins curving upwards, causing the wisdom tooth to tilt or become impacted.
Impacted wisdom teeth can give rises to infection, cysts and cause damage to other teeth. If the tooth doesn’t come all the way through and a little bit of gum stays covering half the tooth (we call this the operculum), it makes cleaning extra difficult and provides a place where food can get trapped and cause infection. If this happens, the resulting problem is called periocoronitis.
Impacted lower wisdom teeth affect about 75% of 20-30 year olds. After 30, wisdom teeth seem to be a bit more stable and cause fewer problems.
What is the point of these wisdom teeth then, you might ask. Well- not a lot nowadays. However, before we evolved and began to eat our current soft diets, back in the caveman days- when we were munching foliage and chewing meat off the bones, they were probably very useful. At that time, our teeth would have worn down much more quickly, meaning that by the time your third molar (wisdom tooth) was ready to come through, there was enough space and this became a useful tooth. The shapes and sizes of our jaws may also have changed and evolved so there is less room for this tooth.
Some people’s wisdom teeth erupt perfectly in position and are a useful chewing tooth but this is certainly not the norm. Sometimes problems with wisdom teeth will be found on routine screening such as an OPG or on the end of a bitewing radiograph. These may then need further investigation.
Most of the time however, it is wisdom teeth trouble- pain or problems, that cause people to come in to have their dentist look at them.
This website is a good extraction resource.