Most of your permanent teeth are already in by the time you’re 11 or 12. But in your late teens or early twenties, one final set of permanent teeth will come in: the third molars, also known as wisdom teeth.
Technically, you don’t actually need them. They’re vestigial, meaning they helped our distant ancestors grind plant tissue more effectively. But today, our mouths are smaller overall than our ancestors’, and you don’t really need those extra molars. In fact, they’re likely to cause problems, so most people have them removed.
If you’re between the ages of 17 and 25, your wisdom teeth have either already come in, or are going to come in soon. Here are five important facts that you should know about these uninvited extra teeth. You need to have them removed as soon as you can, to avoid problems later in life.
Not Everyone Will Get Wisdom Teeth
Most Americans do have wisdom teeth, but believe it or not, some people actually don’t. This is mostly genetic, related to a gene called PAX9 that plays a major role in primate tooth development. Some groups of people have genetic differences that make them less likely to develop wisdom teeth at all. Indigenous Mexican people, for example, have a 100% rate of wisdom tooth agenesis. If you’re a Hispanic person whose family came from Mexico, and you have a high degree of indigenous ancestry, you might actually not get wisdom teeth. However, most Caucasian and African American people do have wisdom teeth.
Most People Should Have Their Wisdom Teeth Extracted
After your wisdom teeth come in, it’s a really good idea to get them removed as soon as possible. Wisdom teeth are the most frequently removed kind of tooth, and for good reason. They have a high likelihood of causing dental diseases, including:
- Pericoronitis. This is a tissue inflammation surrounding a partially erupted wisdom tooth, usually the lower ones. It causes pain, unpleasant taste in your mouth, and visible swelling in your gums. This is common in people in their early 20s.
- Tooth Decay. Wisdom teeth are likely to develop dental caries (cavities). If left untreated, these cavities can cause pulpitis, an inflammation of the dental pulp. The pulp is one of the four types of tissue that make up your teeth, and it’s mostly soft and filled with blood cells. It causes throbbing pain, and can spread to the tooth root. It’s better to get your wisdom teeth removed before this happens, as they’ll have to be extracted anyway.
- Impaction. Wisdom teeth can become impacted, meaning they never erupted completely. This can cause inflammation, as well as dangerous infection. They can also damage other nearby teeth.
Impacted Wisdom Teeth Can Cause Jaw & Sinus Problems
Other teeth aren’t the only things that could be damaged by impacted wisdom teeth. Cysts can form around them, and without extraction, these cysts can damage the nerves in your jaw. They can also cause sinus pain, pressure, and congestion.
Wisdom Teeth Can Mess Up Your Tooth Alignment
If you’re like many people, then by the time your wisdom teeth come in, you’ve long since worn braces and had them removed. Impacted wisdom teeth can force your other teeth out of their original positions, potentially undoing the effects of the braces you put up with when you were younger. They can also affect other previous dental work like bridges, crowns, and partial dentures.
In Some Cases, Extraction Might Not Be the Best Option
Whether or not they’re impacted, wisdom teeth are generally removed to prevent them from causing any problems. However, in some cases, extraction isn’t the best treatment option. For some patients, removal might lead to a risk of nerve damage. Your dentist will be able to decide whether extraction is the best option. If your particular case runs a high risk of complications, you may be referred to a specialist oral surgeon.
At Aspen Dental, wisdom tooth removal is one of the most common procedures we do on a regular basis. If your wisdom teeth have come in recently, it’s a good idea to think about getting them extracted. Removing them now could save you a lot of trouble later on.