Nearly all of us develop wisdom teeth and wish we didn’t. Most of us have them on each side of our mouth, upper and lower. Strictly speaking, they are our third set of molars. They’re called “wisdom teeth” because they are so late in erupting out of the jaw – much later than all other teeth in the mouth, arriving in the late teens to early 20s.
But we need to take a step back here because that’s where the problem or problems begin. When teeth erupt – or try to erupt. We’ll get to that… but first, did you know that wisdom teeth are visitors from a previous life that have outlived their welcome and usefulness?
Our ancestors’ jaws were large enough to accommodate 32 teeth, including the big chompers that we call wisdom teeth. That was when human jaws were larger and broader than the average jaw in this day and age. Their jaws were also more U-shaped compared to ours that are more parabolic – a wider U.
As adults, our current dentition (the arrangement of teeth) in each jaw includes four incisors (for biting), two canines (for tearing), and four bicuspids or premolars, and six molars including wisdom teeth (all for grinding) – that’s 32 teeth. But most jaws today are much smaller and have the capacity for only 28 teeth.
There are many theories for why our jaws became smaller, including that the jaw accommodated its structure to enable speech. When it became smaller, the change resulted in less space at the back of the teeth known as the retromolar space. So, as you can see, something has to give! And most of the time, it’s the wisdom teeth.
Wisdom teeth begin to form at around age nine and completely maturing by 18-21 years. Usually, by our late teens, the jawbone has reached its adult size. This is where the problems begin as the jaw often isn’t big enough to hold the wall of our developed teeth. As a result, when wisdom teeth start to erupt, the space is too limited, and wisdom teeth can find themselves in several predicaments.
Simply put, when wisdom teeth try to erupt into the mouth when there is no room for them, they put pressure on existing already-erupted teeth. This can cause great discomfort or pain. Sometimes wisdom teeth are positioned sideways and push on the roots of your back molars. Sometimes they make other teeth shift – definitely what you don’t want to have happen, especially if you already had orthodontic treatment. Despite the reason these teeth don’t come in to place correctly, we call them “impacted.”
Complications Of Wisdom Teeth Emerge When They Become…
Trapped – Sometimes, wisdom teeth become trapped in the jawbone below the gumline. When it happens, aching and pain will occur. You cannot diagnose this yourself as the positioning of the wisdom teeth can only be seen with the aid of x-rays.
Sideways – This is when the wisdom tooth wants to erupt, but it’s positioned to grow sideways and push forward against the second molar. Again, great discomfort and pain. This can cause other teeth to give way and shift position, possibly disrupting the alignment of all your teeth, not just the ones at the back of your mouth.
Partially erupted – The tooth’s crown may only partially break through the gum, as it can be held back by the already-in-place second molars. Often, the molar may not put pressure on its neighbours. But it is very difficult to clean and impossible to floss, leaving it susceptible to serious decay and infection further down the road.
Misplaced – A wisdom tooth may remain in the bone with misshapen or misplaced roots that can grow dangerously close to a sinus cavity.
What may happen when wisdom teeth become impacted?
While you likely won’t experience all these symptoms, you will definitely experience some…
tooth discomfort or pain
reduced ability to open mouth
Predicting the future of your wisdom teeth?
It’s difficult to predict when or if your wisdom teeth will give you problems, but regular x-rays can provide us with a good indication. Removal at a younger age before complications develop means easier extractions and a much faster recovery time.
How do we treat impacted wisdom teeth?
No one can tell when an impacted molar will cause trouble, but trouble usually comes. The key to avoiding discomfort and complicated treatment is with x-rays so that the wisdom teeth can be removed before that happens. It’s one of the most common oral surgery treatments.
Even though they’re called “wisdom teeth,” they don’t seem to be very wise…
At Innova Progressive Dental Care, we will develop a treatment plan to help you make smart choices.
New patients are always welcome!