Only one out of every 25 people get to keep all 32 teeth to chew our food; most of us end up with only 28, and a story to tell about our wisdom teeth! Anthropologists and evolutionary biologists think the wisdom teeth have become non-functional due to evolution: we do not have the same diet of coarse, rough food that our ancestors did, who had larger active jaw muscles. Evolutionary history lead us to our smaller jaws which can no longer accommodate wisdom teeth.
Wisdom teeth are the third set of molars, which usually start forming around age 10, and emerge in a young adult’s mouth between the age of 17-25, but often they are impacted or blocked by the second molars. Also, if the tooth is partially erupted, food can get trapped in the gum without access to clean. This leads to infection and decay. Wisdom teeth which come in tilted or remain tucked away can also lead to crowding or other problems. Completely impacted wisdom teeth can potentially develop into a cyst, forming a sac of tissue around the tooth leading to bone destruction.
There are lucky big-jawed or small-toothed people who develop wisdom teeth that function properly, they do not need to see an oral surgeon for extraction, but most of us face the unavoidable trip to the oral surgeon to prevent or treat wisdom teeth complications.
Unfortunately, there are risk factors for removing your wisdom teeth as well. Besides common surgical complications (like swelling, pain and infection), paresthesia (numbness) of the lower jaw, lip, chin or tongue could be quite annoying. If the wisdom teeth are positioned very close to or are intertwined with nerves, the process of extraction can bruise or damage these nerves. Paresthesia is rare and usually temporary, but in some cases can be permanent. Dry socket, when blood of the socket of the extracted tooth fails to coagulate (or a blood clot becomes dislodged due to trauma like sneezing, or playing a musical instrument) can cause irritation, pain and inflammation, but generally heal within a few weeks on their own. To lower the risk factors of extraction, have your wisdom teeth removed at the appropriate time, when the root has formed two-thirds of the way (approximately age 18-24) for easier handling and fewer complications. Because bone density is less developed in teenage years than in later adulthood, it is less resistant, carrying fewer risks of extraction. With age, the jaw becomes dense and extraction becomes increasingly complicated.
So it is very important to have an examination and consultation with your dental professional regarding your specific situation. Clarify the elective removal of wisdom teeth, whether the potential risks associated with the procedure exceed the benefits, or whether it’s time to get them out – for a better environment for the rest of your teeth.