By your early teens you should have all your adult teeth except for four molars, which will wait until you’re slightly older (and supposedly wiser) before they emerge. These infamous ‘wisdom teeth’ usually emerge between the ages of 17 and 25, but not always to the warmest of welcomes.
Many of our patients wonder why we have wisdom teeth, considering there’s often not enough room for them. The most popular theory is that they evolved because our ancestors’ coarse diet. However, nowadays it’s out with tough roots and leaves and in with soft cooked food. Wisdom teeth are surplus to requirements and even classified as ‘vestigial organs’ – a trait that’s become functionless through evolution.
Impacted wisdom teeth
Some individuals don’t have any problems with their wisdom teeth (some people don’t even have them). But for others they can cause pain and complications when they finally make their appearance. Inopportunely, evolution has also seen human jaws shrink, so there’s not always space for four extra teeth. This means your wisdom teeth can become blocked (impacted) and unable to fully erupt.
Impacted wisdom teeth don’t always cause problems, and you may not even know they’re there unless your dentist takes an X-ray. If you’re less lucky, they can cause pain, inflammation and bleeding gums. They can also damage neighbouring teeth and occasionally lead to a cyst that can jeopardise the surrounding roots and bone.
In some cases, wisdom teeth will manage to partially break through the gum, but this often creates a ‘flap’, which provides the perfect environment for bacteria to prosper, increasing your risk of tooth decay and gum disease. In this instance, brush the area carefully twice a day to remove any trapped morsels of food. You might find that a toothbrush with a smaller head makes it easier to reach the very back of your mouth
Wisdom teeth and crooked teeth
As well as being a general nuisance, wisdom teeth are often blamed for causing crooked or crowded teeth. However, for once they are not guilty! Research has shown that wisdom teeth don’t exert enough pressure on neighbouring teeth to cause dental crowding. Instead, this is usually the result of a ‘natural drift’ that can happen regardless of what your wisdom teeth are up to.
As we age our face and jaws subtly change shape. You may not notice this happening, but these subtle changes can affect your teeth. It’s also thought that teeth naturally have a tendency to move forward over time and crowd together.
Regardless of what’s caused your teeth to move later in life, we can almost always straighten them out with the help of braces. There’s no age limit for orthodontic treatment. Better yet, we can use retainers to make sure they stay in their new position and prevent them (as much as we can) from moving out of line.
Extracting wisdom teeth
While it’s not necessary to remove wisdom teeth to prevent crowding, they may need to be taken out for other reasons. If they are causing pain, tooth decay or gum disease, make an appointment to see your dentist. Initially they might recommend better brushing and oral hygiene, but if the problem is severe of reoccurring you could need one or more wisdom teeth removed.
Although this may sound daunting, wisdom tooth extraction is a very common procedure and with the help of a local anaesthetic it should be pain free.
For more advice on straightening crooked teeth or dealing with problem wisdom teeth, contact our friendly team today.