Wisdom teeth are pretty dumb. Leftovers of our caveman past, this third set of molars rarely does anyone any good. At Gentle Dental, we perform wisdom tooth extraction. And summer’s a great time to do it, as the usual wisdom tooth patient is in high school, so doing it now eliminates the need to miss school.
What are the wisdom teeth?
If you’re not a Charles Darwin fan, you can make up your logic for wisdom teeth. But this third set of molars is right in there with our tailbone, our appendix, and a few other body parts that are no longer relevant or needed. Wisdom teeth used to be needed because our diet consisted of leaves, nuts, roots, and some very tough meat. All of which required much greater amounts of chewing, leading to more tooth wear. To accommodate this third set of molars our prehistoric jaws were longer than they are now.
But with our modern diet of smoothies, pasta, good steaks, and the like we no longer need extra molars. Our jaws have shortened to reflect the changes in diet. The problem is, no one told the wisdom teeth to forget about coming in. They still force their way down, usually affecting the other teeth around them in a bad way.
This is the timing of when our molars come in. The first set erupts around age six. The second set comes in around age 12. The third set, the wisdom teeth, comes in between the ages of 17 and 25. That’s why they’re called wisdom teeth since we should be a little wiser by that point in life.
So why can’t I keep my caveman’s teeth?
The problem with wisdom teeth, like your attic or crawlspace, is space. There isn’t enough room in our modern mouths for these extra teeth. When they come in, they become impacted (blocked) by the other teeth. Sometimes they come in sideways. Sometimes they are surrounded by jawbone. Sometimes they partially erupt, creating pockets where bacteria flourish.
Before they cause alignment issues with your other teeth, the wisdom teeth usually need to be extracted. The best time to do this is between the ages of 15 and 18. Why? At this point, the wisdom tooth roots are only two-thirds formed, so the longer you wait, the harder their extraction will become.
How does the Gentle Dental team remove caveman’s teeth?
We use x-rays to follow the progression of your wisdom teeth. That’s another reason why twice-yearly exams are important. If the wisdom teeth have all erupted, their removal is pretty straightforward, but that’s rarely the case. Usually, at least one or two of the teeth are impacted. They often need to be broken and taken out in pieces to minimize the impact on the surrounding gum tissue and jawbone.
An important part of the extraction is the home recovery regimen. The main risk is an infection of the sockets where the teeth were removed. Diligent home care, such as rinsing with the saltwater solution, can prevent infection. Dry socket is also possible. This occurs when the blood clot that forms after extraction to protect the bone and nerves becomes dislodged or dissolves, exposing the nerves. This is painful but easily treated. In most wisdom tooth extractions, patients have some pain and need to eat a soft diet for a few days, but then they return to normal in a week or so.