Some Wisdom on Wisdom Teeth

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wisdom teethWhenever you hear the term “wisdom teeth,” you probably immediately have a vision of painful extraction. Everyone dreads hearing the dentist say that its time to pull your wisdom teeth.

Probably the most maligned of all the teeth, most people don’t know much about their wisdom teeth. Really, all they are is the third set of molars, the large teeth in the back of your mouth whose primary function is to grind up food. Wisdom teeth are the last teeth to grow in, generally appearing between the ages of 17 to 25.

Why are they called wisdom teeth?

It’s interesting that many languages other than English use a term similar to “wisdom teeth” when describing the third molars. German calls them Weisheitzähne (wisdom teeth), the French say dents de sagesse (wisdom teeth). In Spanish they are muelas del juicio (teeth of judgement), and in Arabic ders-al-a’qel (teeth of the mind).

While the teenage years and early twenties aren’t often associated as the most wise time of our lives, the appearance of your wisdom teeth indicate achieving adulthood. Other languages are very specific when it comes to the timing of the third molar. In Turkish they are known as yirmi yaş dişi, which literally translates to “20th-year teeth.”

Regardless of how they are considered culturally, they are an indicator of growing older, and they are the last teeth that you’ll grow in.

What’s their purpose?

Wisdom teeth are an unfortunate victim of evolution. Many people wonder why we even have them when most of the time they have to get removed. Our ancestors had a very different view on their utility. They needed more molars to grind up the tough raw meat and fibrous plants that constituted the majority of their diet. As our diet and civilization developed, we’ve created easy ways of heating and cooking our meats and other foods. By creating more tender, cooked foods, we no longer have need for more tooth surface to grind up tough foods.

Our jawbones developed over time to accommodate the new diet, but our wisdom teeth failed to keep up with progress. The result is that many people have too many teeth trying to squeeze into a smaller jaw.

Generally people grow in four wisdom teeth, two at the ends on the top, and two at the ends on the bottom. For some people, wisdom teeth grow in perfectly normal, but for others, correction will be required.

Why do wisdom teeth need to be removed?

The first appearance of your wisdom teeth will likely be on x-rays during your adolescent or young adult years. That’s how a dentist can track their growth and see how they are growing in. How they grow in is the key to whether or not they’ll need to be removed.

If the teeth grow in sideways because of our smaller modern jaws, they are called impacted. This simply means that they are trapped in the jaw, unable to erupt from the gum successfully. Sometimes they erupt partially, which is termed partially impacted. By growing sideways, they put pressure on your other teeth, often causing pain and swelling. Other problems, like cysts that develop around a fully impacted wisdom tooth may occur.

Even if a wisdom tooth grows in perfectly, it’s at a location in your mouth that is very difficult to keep clean. If you have your wisdom teeth, it’s important that you make sure you clean them frequently and often as part of your regular oral hygiene regimen.

wisdom teethWhat is the process to have them removed?

For most people, the procedure usually takes less than an hour. You’ll likely receive either a local anesthesia or a shot of novocaine in your gum as well as nitrous oxide, IV sedation, or other general anesthesia so that you’ll be unconscious through the surgery. Your dental surgeon will require that someone be on hand to drive you home after the procedure.

Since most wisdom teeth that are removed are impacted, the gums will be cut as part of the procedure which will require stitches, so you’ll leave the office with gauze pads in place over any incisions.

You can expect there to be some bleeding on the first day after extraction, so you’ll need to keep an eye on and replace the gauze pads periodically. You will likely experience discomfort, which can be managed with over the counter medications or prescription medication that your dentist prescribes. A good tip is also to put ice packs on your jaw to help reduce swelling.

After the first day you’ll notice rapid improvement. Soft foods will be recommended for the week following surgery.

It’s important to remember that wisdom teeth amount to a rite of passage. Most of us get them, and most of us who do get them will need to have them removed. Regular visits to your dentist will help track their growth and progress, and together with your dentist you can determine the best plan of action — whether to leave them in place or have them removed. Either way, the appearance of wisdom teeth means you have officially and successfully completed the growth of your teeth.

If you have any questions, or would like to set up an appointment, give Lockhart Dentistry a call today at (317) 449-8050.

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