Wisdom teeth, also known as third molars, are the last teeth to come into the mouth. They usually appear between the ages of 17-21, and the truth is, they can be a real pain!
Wisdom teeth are a biological relic from our early human ancestors. Many evolutionary biologists now believe these four teeth were used to help chew their coarse diets and replace other teeth lost to decay or trauma. However, as people have learned to care for their teeth, the need for these replacement teeth diminished over time. In fact, some people don’t even develop wisdom teeth anymore, and according to the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, about 85% of all third molars will eventually need to be removed.
When the third molars are healthy and positioned correctly, they can be an asset in the mouth. However, most wisdom teeth remain impacted, or trapped in the jaw and unable to break through the gums, and may need to be removed to avoid future complications.
Keeping tabs on your teen’s new teeth
It is important to keep up with your teen’s regular dental appointments. These routine appointments allow your dentist to monitor the development of your teen’s wisdom teeth with the help of x-rays. This lets them watch as the new teeth develop and make a plan of action for when they start to erupt.
There are a number of conditions your dentist will look for when evaluating your teen’s wisdom teeth, such as:
- The possibility of pericoronitis, or, the inflammation of the gums around the partially erupted crown of a tooth
- Tooth decay, or even infections, stemming from food and bacteria hiding in the nooks and crannies of a partially erupted tooth
- The proximity of the wisdom teeth to important nerves in your teen’s face and jaw, which could cause complications for later extraction if the tooth’s root becomes entangled with the nerves
- The possibility of your teen’s wisdom teeth forming cyst(s) that could damage the roots of nearby teeth and even the jawbone, and
- If your teen’s jaw is big enough to accommodate these extra teeth.
Making the call for wisdom teeth removal
No two wisdom teeth are the same, but some common reasons patients opt to have their wisdom teeth removed include:
- Damage to neighboring teeth
- Gum disease, and
- Tooth decay.
You may have noticed that crowding isn’t listed as a potential reason to have your wisdom teeth removed. That’s because it’s actually only a myth that third molars, which develop in the back of the jaw with no firm support, can put pressure on the 14 other teeth in the arch to make the incisors overlap and twist.
“Orthodontists, dentists and oral surgeons used to tell people [crowding was a reason for wisdom tooth removal] because that’s what they thought,” said Dr. Blanchard, orthodontist at Dental Depot Yukon. “But they’ve done a ton of studies to disprove this and almost every day at my practice I’m re-educating people.
“There are lots of good reasons why someone might need wisdom teeth removed, but this is not one. They’ve shown wisdom teeth don’t cause teeth to move, or in particular, cause crowding in the front teeth. This is actually part of the normal aging process regardless of whether someone has wisdom teeth or not.”
What is wisdom teeth removal like?
Every patient is different and sometimes it’s possible for patients to have their wisdom teeth extracted in the office by our general practice dentists. More often than not, however, wisdom teeth removal can be tricky and usually require removal by an oral surgeon in an office that can provide the next level of anesthesia, such as our West OKC and West Norman offices.
Typically, wisdom tooth removal procedures take 45 minutes or less and involve anesthesia appropriate for the particular procedure. In our general office setting, patients often receive nitrous oxide (aka laughing gas) to help relax any anxieties they might have about the procedure, as well as Novocain as a local anesthetic. If going this route, the patient can expect to feel some pressure and movement, but the Novocain will block any pain.
If your teen requires a visit to the oral surgeon to have their third molars removed, they’ll likely receive local anesthesia in the gums, as well as intravenous sedation to suppress their consciousness. Generally, patients who undergo intravenous sedation won’t have any recollection of the surgery.
During the removal, your dentist or oral surgeon will work carefully to remove the teeth, sometimes making a small incision in the gums to give them access to the impacted tooth. Occasionally stitches are needed to help promote healing, so check with your provider to see if your teen received stitches, and if they are dissolvable or if your teen will need to return to have them removed.
Now that you have a better understanding of wisdom teeth and their role in your developing teen’s mouth, we hope you can rest a bit easier knowing that with regular check-ups with your teen’s dentist, you can stay ahead of the curve.
For more information about post-op care, visit wisdom teeth removal.