You’ve probably heard the saying “with age comes wisdom.” Literally speaking, wisdom teeth usually grow out by the time you’re in your late teens or early twenties (specifically, 17 to 21 years old, traditionally an age considered to have gained some measure of wisdom). Your family dentist might want to share these things about wisdom teeth with you:
What Are Wisdom Teeth?
Wisdom teeth are the third and final set of molars, completing your dental arch. They help you chew your foods thoroughly. One wisdom tooth erupts on each backside of your lower and upper jaws, which often takes place during your early twenties or late teens. This makes a total of four wisdom teeth.
Wisdom teeth are evolutionary holdovers when humans were transitioning to a flatter face and a bigger brain. Human ancestors used to have a complete set, including the third set of molars. However, when early Homo sapiens needed a bigger skull to accommodate an appropriately bigger brain, the architecture of the jaws was retooled, which inhibited modern human jaws from hosting the third molar without issue.
Why Are Wisdom Teeth Often Removed?
As you reach this age, your dentist might start assessing if your dental arch has enough space for your wisdom teeth. If not, your wisdom teeth will grow misaligned, causing other dental problems. For one, they can push your second molars, which results in poor alignment of neighboring teeth. This also causes jawbone or nerve damage. Normally, however, wisdom teeth that grow without issue are not removed; some people carry on with their lives without having known that their wisdom teeth have grown.
Your wisdom teeth might also become impacted, which means they only partially break through your gum. Being partially enclosed by your soft tissues, this makes it difficult to clean your wisdom teeth. As a result, bacteria can grow, leading to tooth decay and gum diseases. Some ethnicities are more prone to having missing wisdom teeth, particularly those of Asian descent. Some studies have pegged that 40% of Asian Americans, for example, are missing at least one wisdom tooth.
What Happens in a Wisdom Tooth Extraction?
Before anything else, your dentist can perform a complete dental exam, including taking dental X-rays. For wisdom teeth that already appeared, they would also apply a local anesthetic agent and remove them once the medication takes effect. Afterward, they would also place a gauze or cotton ball in the affected area, which you have to bite down for 30 to 45 minutes or until the bleeding has lessened or stopped completely.
If you have impacted wisdom teeth, however, the process might be a little more complex. Your dentist might incise your gums to have a better view of your molars, then break them into sections, finally removing them one by one. You can apply ice packs to your cheeks surrounding the affected area to minimize the swelling or take pain relievers to reduce your discomfort.
Do not delay if you suspect that you have impacted wisdom tooth. Consult your dentist right away for your options.