What Are Wisdom Teeth?
Wisdom teeth grow in at the back of the mouth, behind your molars. There is a set on the bottom as well as the top. Wisdom teeth often grow in crooked, sideways, or otherwise misaligned. As they grow in, they can push on other teeth, causing problems of overcrowding and misalignment for them as well.
We don’t really need our wisdom teeth, which is why dental professionals often recommend wisdom teeth extraction to treat wisdom teeth infection. You may wonder why we have wisdom teeth if we don’t really need them. Anthropologists believe that wisdom teeth were evolution’s response to our ancestors’ early diet of rough foods such as roots, nuts, and meats that require serious chewing power. Since our diets today consist of softer foods, evolutionary biologists have classified wisdom teeth as functionless due to evolution.
When Do We Get Wisdom Teeth?
Wisdom teeth usually come in between the ages of 17 and 21 years old. If you’re thinking about putting the surgery off, think again. When you are young, the roots are not completely formed and the surrounding bone is softer, which leaves less chance for damaging nearby nerves. Your roots will continue to grow with age, making wisdom teeth surgery more painful and prone to complications as you get older. The older you get, the more difficult wisdom teeth surgery can become.
Function and Purpose of Wisdom Teeth
Wisdom teeth are believed to be “evolutionary relics,” and were helpful to our distant ancestors who ate diets that consisted of rougher foods like sticks and reed plants. As teeth wore down or fell out, wisdom teeth provided replacements. Nowadays, with modern advancements in oral hygiene and softer diets, we don’t need these replacement teeth, but they still grow in. Essentially, our mouths can hold 28 teeth, but including wisdom teeth, we have about 32 teeth all vying for space. Wisdom teeth symptoms such as overcrowding, bone and nerve damage, infection, etc. can all result.
Wisdom Teeth Symptoms
Are your wisdom teeth coming in? Wisdom teeth symptoms can include:
- Pain at the back of the mouth, behind the molars. This pain will gradually increase with time as the wisdom teeth continue to grow in misaligned or sideways, pressing on nerves and bone, and crowding surrounding teeth.
- Other wisdom teeth symptoms include pain, redness, tenderness and/or swelling around the site. As wisdom teeth begin to erupt through the surface of the gums, this allows bacteria to enter through open tissue, which can result in infection. Oral infections have been shown to affect your overall health as well.
- It’s also possible for wisdom teeth to become impacted, a state in which the jaw bone or neighboring teeth block the teeth from erupting. They become trapped in place as their roots continue to elongate, and the longer they remain impacted, the more likely they are to cause problems for your oral and general health. Wisdom teeth symptoms due to impaction include severe pain at the back of the mouth, infection, and other complications. Foul breath, bad taste upon chewing food, redness and swelling can all be signs of infection. If left untreated, impacted wisdom teeth can breed cysts and, in rare cases, tumors.
Impacted wisdom teeth are prone to developing cysts (pockets of fluid) around them, which can damage the tooth and surrounding tissues, including bone. In rare cases, tumors can form around these cysts, complicating wisdom teeth extraction. The longer you hold off on seeking wisdom tooth pain relief, the more likely it is that you will require a more invasive surgical extraction procedure, or that the problematic teeth will permanently damage surrounding tissues.
It is also possible for your wisdom teeth to partially emerge from underneath the gums. In this position, it’s relatively easy for bacteria to enter through the opening around the tooth. By not seeking wisdom tooth pain relief, it’s more likely that you will experience infection. Infection will result in increased wisdom tooth pain, redness, swelling, jaw pain, stiffness and general illness. It is very easy for oral infections to enter the blood stream and affect the entire body.
Wisdom Teeth Treatment
The most common treatment for wisdom teeth symptoms is extraction of the teeth. Wisdom teeth extraction is generally done at a dentist’s or oral surgeon’s office under local or general anesthesia. These options and any complications will be discussed before the extraction procedure. If your wisdom teeth have already erupted through the surface of the gums, they can be removed relatively easily as if they were any other tooth. Impacted wisdom teeth can be a little more complicated to remove, however. An incision is made through the surface of the gum above the tooth. After that, any bone covering the tooth needs to be removed. Then the tooth itself is extracted; sometimes, your dentist or surgeon will need to cut the tooth into several pieces to salvage as much bone as possible and avoid unnecessarily cutting bone or risking nerves and delicate tissues. Wisdom teeth extraction is a common procedure and is likely the best solution to relieve your wisdom teeth symptoms.
In recent years, it has become increasingly rare for wisdom teeth symptoms to precede their removal. Dentists and oral surgeons are more likely to recommend that wisdom teeth be removed before they become a problem for oral health. Even still, it’s possible to experience wisdom teeth symptoms, in which case you should relate this information to your dentist immediately.
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