Having your wisdom teeth removed is a rite of passage of sorts for teenagers. A vestige of our caveman ancestors, our wisdom teeth make up a third set of molars and usually need to be extracted before they begin to cause havoc with the alignment of our other teeth. At New Smiles Dental, we offer wisdom teeth extraction.
What Are Wisdom Teeth?
In earlier human history, it made sense to have a third set of molars. Our diets consisted of leaves, roots, nuts, and some very tough meat. All of this required far greater chewing power and caused greater wear and tear on our teeth. To make room for this extra set of molars, prehistoric jaws were longer than our jaws are today.
Obviously, modern man enjoys a diet that is much easier to chew, so our wisdom teeth are no longer needed. They are classified as vestigial organs — organs that are no longer of any use. Your appendix is one of these, as are your wisdom teeth. Unfortunately, our wisdom teeth still descend. Our first set of molars erupt around age six, the second set at age 12, and the third set (wisdom teeth) somewhere between the ages of 17 and 25. That’s where the “wisdom” moniker comes from, as by that age, hopefully, we are a little bit wiser than our younger days.
Wisdom Teeth Extraction
We can get away with our tailbone and appendix, but the arrival of our wisdom teeth is invariably bad news. If we still had longer jaws everything would be fine, but our modern shorter jaw length means there isn’t any room for a third set of molars. So, when your wisdom teeth come down they become impacted (blocked) by the other teeth. They can come in sideways and push on the adjacent teeth. They are sometimes surrounded by bone. Often one wisdom tooth will partially erupt, creating pockets in the gums that are perfect places for bacteria to thrive.
Although you may know someone who still has their erupted wisdom teeth in place, people like that are very rare. Others seem to never have had their wisdom teeth come down and cause havoc. Those few are evolutionarily advanced. For the rest of us, wisdom teeth simply cause the other teeth to be pushed out of position and other dental issues to arise. Thus the need for them to be extracted.
CANDIDATES FOR WISDOM TOOTH EXTRACTIONS
The team at New Smiles keeps an eye on your wisdom teeth. They show up in x-rays and we chart their path as they begin to descend. In most cases, waiting to extract them isn’t a good idea. They may take all the way until age 25 to erupt, but just their presence next to other molars can cause problems. The best plan is to proactively remove them. Why? When a teenager is between the ages of 15 and 18 his or her wisdom tooth roots are only two-thirds formed, making this the perfect time to yank them out. Wait until their 20s and extraction will become more involved.
WISDOM TOOTH EXTRACTION PROCEDURE
Wisdom teeth extraction is considered minor surgery, but don’t say that to your teen on the third day after their surgery. X-rays show us when the wisdom teeth are descending, which is another reason to be diligent with your twice yearly professional cleanings and exams. At a certain point, they will begin to either erupt or start pushing on the other teeth. That’s the time to remove them. It would be easy if they had all erupted, but that is very rare. Instead, usually, half the teeth are impacted. Often they’ll need to be broken to get them out to minimize the impact on the surrounding gum tissue and the jawbone. That’s where the third-day pain comes from.
RISKS OF A WISDOM TOOTH EXTRACTION
As with any surgery, infection is the main potential complication, but if the patient rinses with saltwater and keeps his or her mouth relatively clean this risk can be minimized. You may have heard about “dry socket,” but its occurrence is also rare. This happens when the initial blood clot that forms when after-surgery bleeding has stopped becomes dislodged or dissolves. When this happens there is a direct line to the jawbone and the surrounding nerves. As you would expect, this is very painful, but treating it is not difficult.
WISDOM TOOTH EXTRACTION RECOVERY
In the majority of cases, your teenager will need about a week to return their old self. They will look like a chipmunk for the first few days, especially if the teeth were impacted, but that’s normal. When returning home from surgery, there will be bleeding, but that will usually stop in the first six hours or so. Our team will give you full instructions on how to handle your recovery.