There is a growing controversy over whether we really need to have our wisdom teeth removed or not. They are known as third molars and are the last set of teeth to come in located in the far back of the mouth. They usually come in between the ages of 17 and 25. It is sometimes referred to as the time of wisdom.
These teeth come in fine for some, but for others they don’t. Sometimes they don’t come in at all. They tend to be vulnerable to disease because they are difficult to keep clean. Often times they need to be removed to keep the rest of the mouth healthy.
It has been estimated that 95% of 18-year-olds from the United States have wisdom teeth. A large portion of them have very little if any chance to use them in a normal way” says Louis Rafetto, DMD, who is an maxillofacial and oral surgeon in Wilmington, Delaware.
Because to millions of people, wisdom teeth are pretty much useless for chewing, people wonder why we have them. Some people think that our ancestors needed an extra row of teeth to chew their food which some people believe was mainly a diet of uncooked foods like roots, nuts, and meats. Even though we don’t know everything about anthropology, we do know that wisdom teeth were more useful thousands of years ago then they are today with our modern refined diets.
There are some people today that never develop wisdom teeth. This is likely because those people have a smaller jaw and face. says John Hawks, PhD. He also notes that people in more agricultural based people groups are more likely to not have wisdom teeth than are hunter-gatherer people groups such as the current day Aboriginal Australians.
Trouble With Wisdom Teeth
The determining factor that causes most wisdom teeth problems is anatomy according to Thomas Dodson, DMD, MPH. The jaw is either too small or the teeth themselves are too big for the jaw. This causes a crowded mouth. This is why the third molars are designed to come in between the late teens to mid twenties when the jaw might be large enough to accommodate them. Because of this lack of space today, we can extrapolate that human jaws were larger in the past and they have gradually gotten smaller over many thousands of years of human evolution.
Because of the lack of space today, wisdom teeth often come in sideways or at strange angles. They can only partially emerge through the gums which is called partially impacted wisdom tooth. They can also get trapped in the gum and jawbone which is know as an impacted wisdom tooth.
Dr. Dodson says that partially impacted wisdom teeth are constantly contaminated with bacteria related with infection, gum disease, tooth decay, and inflammation. It is hard to keep them clean because they are so far back in the mouth. This means that bacteria have a chance to proliferate causing infections. These infections can spread outside the month and cause other health issues. The impacting of the molars disturbs the position of the other molars next to them.
Even when third molars are fully erupted, come in fully, they can still cause problems to an otherwise healthy month. These problems include plaque buildup, cavities, and gum disease. Many people just don’t take the time to clean their wisdom teeth well enough or at all.
Wisdom Teeth Surgery
The decision of how to manage your wisdom teeth should be made with the help of a dentist or oral surgeon. Having them extracted isn’t always needed if they are fully erupted. In order to stay free from gum disease, you should follow your dentist’s advice in regard to your third molars. It you are going to choose to keep your third molars, you will have to be vigilant about oral hygiene and regular dental appointments. If third molars indicate signs of disease or decay, your dentist will strongly suggest having them removed.
For partially or fully impacted teeth, surgery should definitely be an option. If you don’t choose to have them removed, they will need to be monitored closely and have periodic dental office cleanings. Over time, this can be an expensive option, but you should be having periodic dental cleanings for your other teeth anyway so this many not be an issue.
If problems are suspected, “it is wise to remove [the tooth or teeth] before problems lead either to symptoms or damage that may not be repairable,” he says. If the decision is made to take them out, Dr. Rafetto advises not to wait. The surgery is usually less complicated in young people, he says, because the roots are less established and, in general, healing is easier.
How to deal with your wisdom teeth is ultimately your choice. Although expensive surgery is not something most people want to go through, it may be the right dental health option. Having an open discussion with your dentist and reviewing all your options is the first step in making a wise choice.