What are wisdom teeth and why do we have them? Read on for answers to this and more from Edmond, OK, dentist Dr. Damon R. Johnson, DDS.
Q: What are wisdom teeth?
Edmond Dentist Dr. Damon R. Johnson, DDS: Wisdom teeth are more appropriately known as “third molars,” which erupt in late adolescence or early adulthood. They’ve been nicknamed wisdom teeth because they show up around the age of “maturity.”
Q: Are they functional?
Edmond, OK, Dentist Dr. Damon R. Johnson, DDS: Not now. Anthropologists believe that wisdom teeth are a throwback to the days when our ancestors needed an extra set of molars to chew hard, uncooked foods effectively. Modern humans no longer have to rely a large chewing area to eat a balanced diet. Consequently, mouths have gotten smaller over the last 20,000 years and wisdom teeth don’t always have room to develop properly.
Q: Why are wisdom teeth prone to disease?
Edmond Dentist Dr. Damon R. Johnson, DDS: The biggest problem with fully erupted wisdom teeth is their location. It’s more difficult to clean the far reaches of the mouth, meaning a greater chance for food and bacteria to cause decay. Even worse, partially impacted teeth are a haven for the kinds of bacteria that cause infection, decay, and gum disease.
Q: Should I have them removed?
Edmond, OK, Dentist Dr. Damon R. Johnson, DDS: Wisdom teeth removal is a common rite of passage in most developed nations. Many dentists suggest preemptive removal, especially if there is concern that the teeth may cause problems down the road. Removal is usually advised for those with newly emerging wisdom teeth since the roots aren’t fully developed, meaning a less complicated surgery.
Q: What are the risks of extraction?
Edmond Dentist Dr. Damon R. Johnson, DDS: Like all intrusive medical procedures, there are some risks involved. These include infection, nerve damage (usually temporary), mild to moderate pain, and short-term discomfort during the healing process. Most post-surgical pain can be alleviated with over-the-counter medications. However, since wisdom teeth are rooted, the possibly exists for a condition known as “dry sockets.” Dry sockets (alveolar osteitis) results when a protective blood clot dissolves prematurely or fails to form at all. This is an extremely painful condition that requires follow up care and advanced pain management.