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What Are Wisdom Teeth?

Wisdom TeethWisdom comes with age, and so do wisdom teeth. In fact, that’s the reason they’re called ‘wisdom teeth.’ Once referred to as third molars, over the ages they garnered the moniker wisdom teeth because they don’t appear in early years when other teeth do. According to the National Institute of Health, wisdom teeth typically show up in the years between the late teens and early 20s. Most people have gotten their wisdom in teeth by the time they reach age 21, but it’s not impossible for them to come in after your 21st birthday. In fact, there are some folks (an estimated fourth of the population), who never even get all 4 of their wisdom teeth. So, what are wisdom teeth anyway? If you haven’t experienced an impacted wisdom tooth, it’s possible you didn’t even notice your coming in at all. Here are some common dental questions about wisdom teeth, complications, and what to expect if you’re facing treatment of an impacted wisdom tooth.

For most of the population, wisdom teeth (or third molars) come in as one in each of the four quadrants of the mouth. These include the upper left, upper right, lower left, and lower right locations of the mouth. As mentioned above, roughly a quarter of the population never even sees all four of their wisdom teeth come in, which is typically due to heredity. Although most people do have all four of their wisdom teeth by the time they’re in their early 20s, not having them yet isn’t something to be concerned about. In some cases, it takes up to year 25 or even older to have all your wisdom properly in place. If you’re 25 and you haven’t noticed your wisdom teeth yet, don’t panic. Mention it to your dentist at your next bi-annual checkup. It’s possible they’re in and you never even noticed.

As they develop, wisdom teeth can affect other teeth. They may become impacted. They may try to squeeze their way into an already crowded mouth. Or they may come in at an angle. When any of these scenarios occurs, a wisdom tooth may need to be extracted. A wisdom tooth that’s impacted has not yet fully emerged through the gums, leaving it fully or partially by the gums. If a wisdom tooth has fully emerged through the jawbone, a dentist generally can extract it just as she would any other tooth that needs to be extracted. When a wisdom tooth hasn’t completely emerged, this is when surgery likely is necessary. Because the tooth is still within the jawbone, oral surgery is required to extract the tooth and keep it from doing any damage to other teeth. In this case, the tooth plus any bone that obstructs it will need to be extracted. Naturally, as with any type of surgery, recovery will be necessary. During this period, your family dentist or oral surgeon may prescribe medications for pain. There may be some facial swelling post surgery, and you will likely be given instructions to refrain from rinsing, sucking, or spitting within the first day or so following surgery. After the first 24 hours, your dentist may instruct you to begin rinsing your mouth with warm salt water periodically throughout the day, as this is a powerful method of healing. The recovery period typically takes anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.

Sadly, wisdom teeth don’t really make you wise. As a matter of fact, many dentists agree that wisdom teeth are pretty much useless these days.  But wait. Shouldn’t wisdom teeth make you chew better? The fact about wisdom teeth is that no one seems to know the facts. Some dental experts say wisdom teeth have no purpose for modern humans. In fact, many dentists say that wisdom teeth are actually vestigial, meaning they’re right up there with the old appendix for purposelessness. Still other dental experts say that wisdom teeth are useful for helping us to chew more efficiently. If you have more questions about wisdom teeth, especially if you think you may have an impacted wisdom tooth, make an appointment as soon as possible to ask your dentist these and other oral health questions.

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