Wisdom teeth: Are they assets or liabilities?

Posted by Dr. Edward Magida | Filed under

Normally people develop three permanent molars in each quadrant of the mouth. The first molars begin to erupt around the age of six years old. The second come around the age of 12. The third molars, or wisdom teeth, will usually attempt to erupt around the age of 18 to 20. The name "wisdom tooth" came about because at this age, people were thought to have become wiser.

If a third molar grows in properly, it can become a useful tooth. However, many times this does not happen. Often the teeth do not erupt at all, or just partially. In some cases, they do not even develop in the jawbone.

A fairly common problem with wisdom teeth is that they become impacted. Impacted teeth are teeth that are being prevented from growing in properly. Sometimes the teeth are totally encased sideways in the bone with no possibility of straightening out. Sometimes they partially poke through the gums and get "stuck" in that they do not continue to erupt.

It is thought that from an evolutionary standpoint, as human beings evolved, their jaws shrank and this caused a lack of space for all their teeth. Hence the need for most people to eventually have their wisdom teeth removed.

Often it is necessary to use an X-ray to determine if a wisdom tooth is impacted. Impacted teeth cause problems such as infection, decay of adjacent teeth, gum disease or a cyst or tumor can form around the tooth. Many of these situations cause discomfort, which is what brings the patient to the dentist. The solution is to remove the tooth.

Even if the wisdom teeth are not impacted, there may still be reasons to have them removed. If a wisdom tooth is interfering with a person's bite, is badly decayed or has severe periodontal disease around it, it is best to have it removed. Another reason to remove the tooth is interference with the restoration of an adjacent tooth.

Every case is individual and only a dentist can decide if there is a problem that warrants the removal of the wisdom tooth.

If you ever have pain, infection or swelling in your mouth in the area of your wisdom teeth, give your dentist a call. It's the "wise" thing to do.

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