These days, having your wisdom teeth removed is almost a rite of passage. Most people don’t have enough space in their mouths for wisdom teeth to erupt properly. So, why do we have them? What are wisdom teeth and do we need them? Your child’s dentist will monitor the development of wisdom teeth in your child’s mouth and determine whether they need to be removed. There are lots of reasons your child might need their wisdom teeth removed.
In this article, we will discuss what wisdom teeth are, why dentists commonly recommend their removal, and what problems they can cause if left to their own devices. Can wisdom teeth grow back? These questions and more will be answered!
What are Wisdom Teeth?
Also known as third molars, wisdom teeth appear between the ages of 17 and 21. Healthy wisdom teeth that emerge correctly can help a person chew. Erupting teeth normally cause some minor discomfort. However, if your child is experiencing pain with their wisdom teeth, make an appointment with your dentist right away.
Some anthropologists believe wisdom teeth were developed to help with our ancestors’ diet (roots, nuts, meats, etc.). In their opinion, modern innovations—including forks, spoons, and knives—have made wisdom teeth obsolete.
Anthropologist Peter Ungar said this about the adaptation of human wisdom teeth: “It’s a uniquely modern problem because we don’t grow our jaws long enough to accommodate our teeth. It turns out that nature has selected our jaw length on the basis of what it expects us to be doing during the period of time the jaw is growing. The more frequently you put force on the jaw, the longer the jaw grows. Nature has to guesstimate how long your jaw should be for teeth of a given size.”
Can Wisdom Teeth Grow Back Once They Are Removed?
Wisdom teeth do not grow back after they are removed. However, it is possible for a person to have more than four wisdom teeth. These extra teeth are called “supernumerary” teeth and can occur anywhere in the mouth.
Why Are Wisdom Teeth Called “Wisdom Teeth”?
Third molars are called wisdom teeth because they erupt at a more mature age. While they are officially known as our “third molars,” we actually need to go back in time for the answer to this question.
Hippocrates, a renowned Greek physician, referred to wisdom teeth as “sophronisteres,” meaning “prudent.” In the Roman Empire, third molars were called “dentes sapientiae,” which means “teeth of wisdom.” They were given this name because they are the last set of teeth to erupt. When they do emerge, it’s assumed that a person is generally wiser than in their younger years.
Why Do Wisdom Teeth Need To Be Removed?
Sometimes, wisdom teeth are not positioned properly in the mouth. When this happens, they can cause pain and a number of other problems. In many cases, wisdom teeth are removed to prevent future problems. Some known problems wisdom teeth can contribute to include:
- Damage to other teeth caused by pressure from the wisdom teeth
- Jaw damage caused by cysts that can form around wisdom teeth
- Sinus trouble including congestion, sinus pain, and sinus pressure
- Inflamed gums that are sensitive and may be painful to clean
- Tooth decay caused by pockets between teeth that lead to the growth of bacteria
One common reason a wisdom tooth needs to be removed is because they are impacted. When this occurs, the wisdom tooth cannot fully erupt because of some type of barrier. The barrier may be another tooth, the orientation of the wisdom tooth in the jaw, or even the size of the jaw.
“It is important to monitor third molars early to evaluate how they enter the mouth,” said the president of the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (AAOMS). “If there is not adequate room for them to erupt and be maintained in the mouth, it is wise to have them removed before such problems as infection and/or possible damage to neighboring teeth occur.
“The best available evidence to date shows that surgery is appropriate in those cases where third molars show signs of disease, or where there is a high probability that disease will develop,” said the president. “In cases where the third molars are entering the mouth correctly and there is no evidence of cavities or disease, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon or other dental professional may recommend active and routine monitoring of these teeth to assure that they remain problem-free. The worst thing that you can do is ignore them.”
As soon as they begin to cause problems or when X-rays and dental examination show they may cause trouble down the line, it’s time for wisdom teeth to come out. The trick is that as we age, the bones in our mouths become harder, making our teeth more difficult to remove.
There are, however, a few advantages to keeping your wisdom teeth. For example, they can give support for a dental bridge or serve as a substitute for a missing molar.
If wisdom teeth are not removed, it is critical that they are monitored by a dentist regularly to evaluate how they enter the mouth and the effect they have on the mouth and other teeth. If they begin to cause problems, it’s time for wisdom teeth to be extracted. However, because the bones in our mouths become harder, it is more difficult to remove wisdom teeth as we get older.
When Should My Child Have Their Wisdom Teeth Removed?
Studies show that the risks of complications from wisdom tooth extraction are greater for patients 35-years-old and older than it is for younger patients. “Wisdom teeth surgery is less complicated and recovery is faster when a patient is younger, as the roots are not fully developed and the surrounding bone is softer. This minimizes the risk of damaging nearby nerves and other areas,” said the AAOMS president.
What Causes a Wisdom Tooth to Become Impacted?
Wisdom teeth become impacted when something prevents them from erupting. That is, they are blocked by an object and cannot fully erupt. Sometimes, these teeth come in at an angle and other teeth prevent them from erupting properly. Partially erupted or impacted teeth are breeding grounds for bacteria. They are prone to cavities and pericoronitis.
If your child’s wisdom teeth are impacted, it is difficult to maintain proper oral hygiene. So, it is usually best to have them removed. If your child’s wisdom teeth have entered in an upright position and aren’t causing pain, they may not need to be removed.
Whether the tooth is visible or not, it’s becoming impacted could result in the tooth:
- Growing at an angle in the direction of the next tooth
- Growing at an angle facing the back of the mouth
- Remaining trapped within the jawbone
What Are the Symptoms of Impacted Tooth?
Not all impacted teeth will produce symptoms, the most common ones include:
- Red or swollen gums
- Jaw pain
- Tender or bleeding gums
- Bad breath
- Unpleasant taste in the mouth
- Difficulty opening your mouth
How Are These Teeth Removed?
The removal process itself should take about 45 minutes or less. Typically, you’ll meet with your oral surgeon beforehand, and this is a good time to:
- Review health issues you may be experiencing or are dealing with
- Go over medications you’re currently taking
- Discuss the types of anesthesia that you will be given during the surgery
Before your wisdom teeth are removed, you’ll be given a local anesthetic to numb the affected area. If you are having all of your wisdom teeth removed, you may be given a general anesthetic that will prevent pain and help you to sleep through the entire procedure.
In order to remove your wisdom tooth, your oral surgeon will open the gum tissue covering the tooth, and separate the tissue joining the tooth to the jaw bone. If it’s necessary for your oral surgeon to cut through gums or bone to remove your wisdom teeth, the wound will be closed with just a few stitches that will dissolve in a matter of days.
Following the Procedure
You will most likely experience swelling and mild discomfort for about three days. During this time, you should:
- Combat the swelling with an ice pack to the affected side of your face
- Exercise your jaw by gently opening and closing your mouth
- Begin brushing your teeth again on the second day following the procedure – but be careful about brushing against blood clots
- Drink plenty of liquids
- Avoid drinking through a straw because the sucking motion can actually loosen blood clots that help your mouth to heal
- Rinse your mouth gently with saltwater
- While it will probably be tempting to brush your teeth after the procedure, you shouldn’t do so for at least a day. You should also avoid even rinsing and spitting.
What Should I Eat After Having My Teeth Removed?
The key is to eat only soft foods for several days immediately following your procedure. Suggestions include:
- Mashed potatoes
- Scrambled eggs
- Protein shakes
How Long Does It Take To Recover?
In the majority of cases, the recovery process from having wisdom teeth removed is only a few days. While the first two days will be the most uncomfortable, most patients being feeling more like themselves by the third day.
In fact, while you may still be experiencing some swelling, you should be able to resume a more substantial diet by the third or fourth day.
What Can I Do About Pain From These Teeth?
There are some things you can do at home to manage tooth pain until you take your child to the dentist. It’s critical that you visit your child’s dentist to determine the cause and properly address any tooth pain, especially if you suspect wisdom tooth pain. In the meantime, try these helpful remedies at home:
- Warm salt water rinse: Mix one cup of warm water with a teaspoon of salt until the salt fully dissolves. Then, rinse for one minute and spit the solution out.
- Benzocaine: This numbing gel is often used to diminish teething pain in children. Apply to the affected tooth with a Q-tip or cloth. This should temporarily relieve tooth discomfort.
- Cold compress: Hold a cold pack or bag of ice to the affected area for 20 minutes. The ice will help decrease any swelling and numb the pain.
Can These Teeth Cause Other Problems?
It’s important to remember that wisdom teeth can cause other problems, which may be less obvious than toothaches and cavities. If your child still has their wisdom teeth, be aware of the potential problems:
These teeth can negatively affect sinuses. These teeth in your child’s upper jaw are located directly below the sinuses. As their roots grow, they can put pressure on the sinuses.
These teeth can also cause terrible headaches. As they erupt, put pressure on the jaw and other teeth in the mouth, which can cause joints to shift in an uncomfortable and unnatural way.
These teeth cause ear pain sometimes. Left untreated, the pain in the jaw migrates to the ear area and may cause pain there. Experiencing ear pain from wisdom teeth is a sign that your child’s jaw is out of joint/misaligned.
Many dentists believe it is better to remove these teeth early before potential problems develop. Dental X-rays and regular evaluations can help the dentist determine if your child needs to have their wisdom teeth removed. Wisdom teeth removal is performed under anesthesia and takes about two weeks to fully recover from. If you think your child might need to have their wisdom teeth removed, speak with your child’s dentist today.
How Many Wisdom Teeth Does a Person Have?
It depends upon the person. Most of us have four wisdom teeth; one in each corner. Some have fewer, while others have extras.
As for why some have more or fewer wisdom teeth – or none at all – we need to look at evolution. Science tells that at one time, humans had four sets of third molars (six in both upper and lower jaws).
There was a period in our evolution when our brain size greatly expanded in size. And as our brains grew, we needed a larger braincase. This, in turn, led to our jaws becoming more narrow so that it could stay connected to the lower part of the skull.
According to research, genetics and the environment have both contributed to the differing number of wisdom teeth in people.
Why Does My Wisdom Tooth Have Three Roots?
It’s not unusual for wisdom teeth to have more roots than other teeth. Most of your teeth will have one or two roots, depending upon their location. While most upper wisdom teeth have three roots, the lower wisdom teeth typically have two roots. However, it’s not unheard of for there to be more roots on a wisdom tooth.
Can I Have Laughing Gas During The Removal?
As mentioned above, local or general anesthesia is used often during procedures to remove these teeth. Another option is nitrous oxide – also known as “laughing gas.” It’s not very intense, and while you will be awake through the process, you will feel tingly and warm. The laughing gas will reduce the amount of pain you will feel, and because it can make you happy, you’ll laugh more easily – hence the name.
Wisdom Teeth FAQ
While it doesn’t happen often, the eruption of wisdom teeth can have a direct effect on your sinuses, and it’s all about location. The wisdom teeth of the upper jaw are what causes the harm. They sit far back in the mouth, right below your sinuses. As your wisdom teeth grow and develop their roots, they sometimes produce pressure on the sinuses by pushing against them.
Absolutely! A headache caused by a wisdom tooth is the direct result of irregular pressure in the jaw. As your wisdom teeth come in, they may force other teeth out of the way, which can result in you subconsciously adjusting your jaw position. This, in turn, can lead to a shift in your jaw joints to an unnatural – and uncomfortable – position.
It’s really all about cause-and-effect. An impacted wisdom tooth can produce pain in your jaw which can then migrate to the ear. Most of the time, though, the ear pain is caused by Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction – more commonly known as TMJ. This painful condition occurs when jaw joints get out of alignment.
Your child’s dentist may use laughing gas to help calm your child, or your child may be fully sedated with IV medications.
Typically, wisdom teeth have two to three roots. However, they can sometimes have more.
Most people have four wisdom teeth. One wisdom tooth is located in each quadrant of the mouth. However, it is sometimes possible for people to have no wisdom teeth, less than four, or supernumerary (extra) wisdom teeth.
After your child’s wisdom teeth are removed, start with liquid or soft foods. Avoid eating firmer foods that could damage the area or get stuck. Some examples of soft or liquid foods are: applesauce, yogurt, smoothies, broths and soups, mashed potatoes, pudding, ice cream, and gelatin.
All four wisdom teeth are commonly removed in one visit. The procedure usually takes about an hour to complete.
Waiting too long to have your child’s wisdom teeth removed can result in impacted wisdom teeth, which often cause infection and tooth decay.
In the days following your child’s wisdom teeth removal, there is bleeding. The blood may leave an unpleasant taste or smell in your child’s mouth.
After 24 hours, you may want to have your child rinse the area gently with mouthwash to reduce gum soreness and inflammation.
24 hours after surgery, begin having your child rinse the area with a warm salt water solution five to six times a day (especially after eating) to reduce swelling and prevent infection.