Wisdom teeth have an odd nickname – at least until you understand why. The wisdom teeth, or third molars, don’t show up until the late teen years or sometimes even into the early 20’s.
So if a tooth could be considered wise, it might be the late-arriving wisdom tooth, and this is how these molars got their nickname.
Well-positioned, a healthy wisdom molar can be beneficial. Yet this is the exception rather than the norm for most people today. Experiencing trouble with wisdom teeth is all too common and this article will explain why and what to do about it.
Think you have an impacted wisdom tooth or molar? Or looking for wisdom tooth extraction in Brooklyn? Oceanview Dental Care is your local wisdom tooth dental specialist. Having assisted hundreds of patients in the South Brooklyn area, our friendly staff will assess and diagnose your wisdom tooth issues with ease and provide a treatment plan that’s quick and painless.
Definition: What Is a Wisdom Tooth?
Dentists have identified the wisdom teeth as the third molars – two upper and two lower. But what is a lot more intriguing is this: no one really knows why they are there inside the mouth!
Today, people don’t really need those teeth to chew their food. They are quite different even than the other nearby molars. In fact, these rear molars are not present at birth and only start to appear around the age of seven for most people.
So what are they even for? Paleontologists and dentists speculate that in earlier versions of homo sapiens, people may have had larger jaws and a different diet that required some extra strength “backup molars” for particularly tough foods.
It is possible science may never uncover a definitive answer. Yet these molars are still there for most people even if they are no longer actively required.
Your mouth goes through many changes in your lifetime. One major dental milestone that usually takes place between the ages of 17 and 21 is the appearance of your third molars. Historically, these teeth have been called wisdom teeth because they come through at a more mature age.
When they come through correctly, healthy wisdom teeth can help you chew. It’s normal to feel a little discomfort when your wisdom teeth appear, but if you have pain, see your dentist immediately.
Signs & Symptoms of an Impacted Wisdom Tooth and Molars
Since the third molars typically do not start growing at all until the middle childhood years, it is easy to misunderstand early signs and symptoms that they are about to arrive.
One of the most common symptoms of molar growth is when the area around the rear gums can become swollen and tender. This can get pretty uncomfortable as the molars grow larger and prepare to break through the skin.
Sometimes the molars will actually break through the gum skin and arise like normal teeth. But what happens more commonly is that the molars either do not break through the skin at all or they only come through partially.
When this happens, it is called “impaction.” Impacted molars can be really painful! Finding relief then requires treatment from a dental professional.
Causes of Impacted Wisdom Teeth and Molars
In most cases, the third molars will start the eruption process around the age of 17. However, sometimes it can take until the age of 24 before these molars appear. And sometimes they never fully appear, which is the case with impacted molars.
The causes for this vary. Some people actually never develop third molars at all while others may only have one or two of these molars in adulthood.
Some people never have any symptoms or complications that arise from third molar growth and eruption while others experience all kinds of problems. Often, causes relate back to each person’s genetic history, which can include jaw size and shape and whether other family members had similar troubles.
Poor dental hygiene can also be one of the causes for complications with third molars.
Diagnosis of third molar issues is usually fairly straightforward. A dental professional examines the area and takes images to confirm the presence, size and direction of the third molars.
If the third molars are impacted (have not erupted) or are only partially erupted, it is highly likely they will need to be removed.
However, if the third molars are simply on their way out and are in a normal position and not causing crowding of existing teeth, they may be able to stay.
Treatment for Impacted Wisdom Teeth and Molars
Treatment for the discomfort associated with third molar growth will relate directly to the diagnosis.
Are the molars fully or partially impacted? Are they infected? Are they growing in improperly? Is their presence causing crowding of adjacent teeth? Are they causing discomfort?
Your dentist will determine the appropriate treatment on the initial examination, images taken and your answers to these questions.
Whenever third molar growth is abnormal in some way, finding relief often requires molar extraction.
Complications Associated with Wisdom Teeth and Molars
Third molar complications are all too common today. These late arriving teeth can cause trouble even when they grow in totally normally, simply because the jaw isn’t sufficiently roomy to accommodate their presence.
The most common complications include partial or full impaction, infection, tooth crowding and post-extraction dry socket.
Partially impacted wisdom teeth and molars
A partially impacted wisdom tooth may never fully emerge from the surrounding tissue. However, it can take some time to figure out if the tooth is ever going to emerge.
In general, this is a decision best made with the help of a dentist. If your dentist feels the molar is not going to make further progress, they will likely recommend extraction to guard against future infection.
Fully impacted wisdom teeth and molars
A fully impacted third molar may never even break the skin surface. Some people will have all four molars in this situation, while others may only have one or two.
A fully impacted molar should always be extracted as there is a high likelihood it may become infected in the future.
Infected Molars and Wisdom Teeth
Third molars are located so far back in the mouth they can be quite difficult to clean. This is why infected third molars are a relatively common occurrence for adults who have these teeth.
Once a third molar becomes infected, it is usually in the individual’s best interests to have that tooth extracted.
Tooth crowding resulting from impact wisdom teeth and molars
Late arriving third molars frequently create crowded conditions along the jaw. The best treatment is always going to be extraction, especially if removing the third molars will help the person avoid having to have braces or other tooth corrections later in life.
Dry Socket: A Common Extraction Complication
With modern dental technology, having a tooth extracted is a relatively painless affair. But there is still a slight chance of complication.
With third molar extraction, the most common post-extraction side effect is called dry socket.
The “socket” is the open area left behind after the third molar has been removed. The best-case scenario is when the socket gets covered by a protective blood clot that remains in place until the area has fully healed.
But in about five percent of cases, something dislodges that protective clot and exposes the socket, with its still-healing contents of nerve endings and bone. This can be extremely painful and always requires an emergency return visit to the dentist.
Dry socket is a painful condition that sometimes occurs after a tooth is extracted. It happens when the blood clot that forms over your socket is displaced; leaving bone and nerves exposed. If this happens, notify your dentist.
Researchers have identified certain things, like drinking from a straw, smoking and taking hormone therapy, that may increase the risk of dry socket. It is vital to follow your dentist’s post-operative care instructions to the letter to reduce the risk of dry socket.
Dry socket is often treated with antibiotics as well as pain relievers. The antibiotics greatly reduce the risk of the area becoming infected as it continues to heal.
Every single year, a whopping five million people visit their dental professional to have their third molars removed. In most cases, recovery only takes about a week – well worth the peace of mind it can bring.