Wisdom Teeth – What are the potential problems? How can we help?

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What are wisdom teeth?

Wisdom teeth, or third molars, are thought to have been bequeathed to us by our Stone Age ancestors. Their larger jawbones were able to comfortably accommodate 32 teeth and any gaps created by tooth loss were then filled by wisdom teeth moving forward. Thousands of years of evolution later, our jaws have reduced in size but our wisdom teeth remain.

When do wisdom teeth appear?

Usually a person has four wisdom teeth, but in some people they don’t develop at all. Wisdom teeth typically emerge in early adulthood, hence their common name. If only the gaining of wisdom was so simple! Although they usually emerge between the ages of 17 and 21 years, third molars – as they are called – are sometimes visible on the x-rays of adolescents from just 14 years.

Can wisdom teeth cause problems?

Because of our smaller jaw, wisdom teeth often don’t properly erupt and can become impacted. They may grow sideways, emerge part-way out of the gum, or remain trapped beneath the gum and bone. This can cause problems such as gum infection and cyst formation around the impacted tooth, which can lead to permanent damage to the jaw, adjacent teeth and nerves.

If the wisdom teeth don’t come through properly will that cause them to be painful?

Even though not visible or painful, an impacted tooth can become decayed, causing decay and periodontal (bone and gum) disease in the adjacent healthy tooth. Chronic pain can be the result and migraines, headaches and facial pain a daily occurrence. Even when your wisdom teeth do erupt properly, they may be tight in the back of your mouth, making it very hard to clean them properly – leading to decay.

When should wisdom teeth be removed?

Your dentist may advise extraction. The younger you are the easier extraction is, as the bone is more elastic and roots are shorter. Also, the likelihood of you needing to be treated for pain and infection before having wisdom teeth removed increases with age. Researchers have found patients aged above 30 years may be at greater risk for disease, including periodontitis, in the tissues surrounding the third molars and adjacent teeth – which can also affect your general health.

To avert such problems, do not wait until your wisdom teeth cause trouble before you seek help. Your dentist will discuss the pros and cons of any wisdom tooth extraction to ensure you have all the information you need to make your decision.