Most people know wisdom teeth for their unusual name, and for infamously painful eruptions later on in life – usually by the time we reach late adolescence, this usually range from age 16-25, thought they can also erupt much later or not at all.
Some people never experience a single issue with their wisdom teeth throughout their lives. However, for others, the eruption of these teeth can cause:
- Difficulty opening the mouth and swallowing
- Pus coming from the gum
- Swollen or red inflamed tissue around the wisdom tooth area
- Swollen or sore lymph glands under the jaw
Because of this, it’s important to know what wisdom teeth are, and when you might need to seek treatment.
What Are Wisdom Teeth?
Wisdom teeth are the last set of teeth to present themselves, but the way this happens differs from person-to-person. Their presentation is the most unpredictable of all teeth in our mouth. They can erupt in groups of four, but there can be more or less than four, or none at all. They sometimes don’t even look like a tooth at all, they can look like a pearl or any other random shapes or sizes.
They are the furthest back (posterior) of our teeth, and are known by dentists as the third molars. Molars are teeth which are used primarily to grind down and chew food into smaller, more digestible chunks.
Wisdom teeth are thought to have been used by earlier humans to help them process plant material, taking the place of enzymes which break down the durable cellulose cell walls in other animals.
For the most part, wisdom teeth are vestigial. This means they have expended their evolutionary function, but they still linger in our genetic code.
Where Do Wisdom Teeth Get Their Name From?
Wisdom teeth have been so named for the past couple of centuries, dating back as far as the 17th century, across several cultures and languages.
An obvious reason is that wisdom teeth begin to present later in life. They erupt at around the time that individuals reach adulthood and are thought to be ‘wiser’ than before.
Another theory is that the specific phrase comes from a contraction of the historical Dutch name for the third molars, ‘verstandskiezen’. When translated literally, this word means the ‘far standing tooth’. Over time, this is thought to have been shortened during communication between medical experts, or perhaps even conflated due to the phonetic similarities between ‘verstand’ and ‘wisdom’.
Why Do Some People Need To Have Wisdom Teeth Removed?
Having wisdom teeth is not inherently bad, but the ways that they present can be.
For most people, teeth will grow out in the surrounding jaw and gums properly without needing orthodontic corrections. We usually have enough space in our mouths for our 28 teeth without any complications. But adding the extra four wisdom teeth, not everyone has enough room to accommodate 32 teeth.
When there’s not enough space in the jaw, or the wisdom teeth come in at an odd angle or facing the wrong direction, they can cause a number of dental health issues.
One of the most common issues when wisdom teeth initially begin to break through the gums is that flaps of gum are left in the wake. These flaps can accumulate leftover food and attract bacteria. This can cause a painful gum infection named pericoronitis, which is an infection of the gum tissue surrounding the teeth.
A more significant concern is the possibility of tooth impaction, wherein the jaw and surrounding teeth cannot accommodate for wisdom teeth to come in properly. Wisdom teeth remain embedded in the jaw whilst continuing to grow, possibly affecting other teeth in a sequential fashion, as one tooth presses on the other, and so on.
This opens up the teeth to a number of issues:
- Cysts may form in the jaw, which can lead to more severe complications
- Pain from teeth pressing on each other
- Ulcers forming around gums
- Difficulty cleaning teeth, leading to gum disease and dental decay
What Is Involved In Wisdom Teeth Removal?
Wisdom teeth removal is a routine, safe procedure, though specialists may sometimes need to be consulted.
Firstly, x-rays are taken to analyse the severity and angle of impaction, and to screen for other complications. Prior to surgery, an anti-bacterial mouth rinse maybe given and dentists apply anaesthetics to minimise painful sensations. To alleviate potential anxiety, we also have nitrous oxide (happy gas) available at Care Dental Camberwell. Then, your dentist will loosen the wisdom teeth with a tool and then remove the tooth from the gum. Your dentist may prescribe antibiotics post-operatively if infections are present or likely to develop. Appropriate pain relief will also be recommended or prescribed.
If the impaction is more complicated, a specialist surgeon may be needed. This involves removing problematic teeth in several steps, sometime under general anaesthetic.
Why Should I Get Wisdom Teeth Removed?
Removing impacted wisdom teeth is an important procedure than can prevent several unnecessary, painful complications like severe tooth decay, ear nose and throat infections, and tooth misalignment.
This procedure also helps to preserve a confidence with a healthy, pearly-white smile by preventing more significant tooth decay and bad breath.