Wisdom Teeth: What’s the Big Deal?

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If you grow up in America with regular dental care, getting your wisdom teeth removed is a sort of rite of passage. Typically appearing around age 17-21, they’re known for causing pain and potential dental problems in the future.

But for many patients, wisdom teeth may not cause any pain or do anything to make you acknowledge their presence. So what’s the big deal, then? Why do so many oral health professionals recommend getting them removed?

What are Wisdom Teeth?

To understand why wisdom teeth can be problematic, it’s important to know what they are. Wisdom teeth – also called third molars – are some of your strongest and largest teeth. They appear at the back of your mouth, but are often not used at all for chewing food.

So why are they there? The answer is in evolution. When we first evolved from our primate ancestors, wisdom teeth were a natural solution to the coarse foods we ate: raw meat, roots, nuts, and other hunted or gathered foods. But once humans discovered farming, our diets changed, and we began eating softer foods.

Over time, our jaws started growing less forward than our ancestors, and wisdom teeth often don’t have room to come in properly. Which leads us to…

What Problems Can They Cause?

Wisdom teeth often become impacted when they first appear, meaning that they do not fully emerge above the gumline. The biggest problem here is pain as the hard tooth presses against the gumline. But depending on how they grow, they can also affect the growth and positioning of other teeth.

The biggest issue with impacted wisdom teeth is infection. Because they don’t have enough room to fully emerge, they become an easy spot for bacteria to grow, causing tooth decay and other diseases.

Because this risk increases significantly as you get older, most oral health professionals recommend you get your wisdom teeth removed. Only 13% of people older than 65 maintain properly emerged, unimpacted wisdom teeth without health issues.

How Do You Get Them Removed?

Wisdom tooth extraction is surgery performed by an oral surgeon, not a dentist. While an outpatient procedure, it does usually require sedation and aftercare, typically in the form of pain medication.

When you go in for your regular visit to Klooster Family Dentistry, we can refer you to an oral surgeon. X-rays help us determine the urgency of your wisdom teeth removal, and we are happy to answer questions you have about how the procedure works, what to expect, and how to care for them.

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