Have you ever wondered why we have wisdom teeth, when nearly 85% of us wind up needing to get them removed? If third molars are such a normal part of life, why is it that so many teens and young adults wind up calling Summit Dental Center about wisdom teeth extraction?
We Don’t Have the Same Diet as Our Ancestors
Our early ancestors were hunters and gatherers. Their diets consisted of harder-to-chew foods than what we’re used to today. Rather than processed grains or soft fast food, they simply ate what they could pick with their hands, which often meant hard roots and nuts. The result: worn-down teeth.
Not only did our ancestors’ teeth usually wear out sooner, but that last set of molars also served as a replacement if other grinding teeth were ever lost due to infection or injury. Primitive dental care didn’t involve restoring teeth the way we do today. If one was decaying or cracked, it was usually pulled out. Having another set of teeth for “back-up” meant a longer lifespan. Because wisdom teeth don’t erupt until the teens to 20s, our adult ancestors had the chance at maintaining a balanced diet thanks to this extra set of molars. After all, if you can’t chew your food, you can’t get the nutrition your body needs to survive.
Anatomical Differences Between Populations
Your genetics have a lot to say when it comes to whether or not your wisdom teeth have room to fit inside your mouth. Because modern people are keeping their teeth healthier, longer, most of us don’t even have room for wisdom teeth to erupt. However, our body still develops these third molars due to our genetic makeup. While approximately 5% of people have no wisdom teeth, there are also those lucky few who have a naturally larger jaw that allows the molars to come into place just fine. If you fall into one of these two categories of people, you may never need wisdom teeth extraction.
For the rest of us, modern scientists have classified wisdom teeth similar to “vestigial organs.” That is, like an appendix that might need to be removed, your wisdom teeth don’t hold much importance in the overall function and health of your body. Having a wisdom teeth extraction won’t have any negative impact on your oral health; in fact, it tends to improve it.
When Wisdom Teeth Become Problematic
Now that we’ve established why people even have wisdom teeth, we need to address the modern issue of what causes so many people to have problems with them.
At Summit Dental Center, our Houston dentists generally see some of the following issues when our patients come in for a consultation to discuss wisdom teeth extraction:
Impacted Wisdom Teeth — It’s quite common for wisdom teeth to grow in at an angle — even completely sideways — and become impacted against the adjacent tooth. When this happens, it’s physically impossible for your third molar to set itself upright and erupt in alignment with the other teeth. In fact, the neighboring tooth may even become damaged because of the pressure your wisdom tooth is exerting on it. In some cases, that tooth can even die. A simple x-ray is all we need to see if your wisdom teeth are slanted in the wrong direction.
Partially-Erupted Third Molars — Let’s say your wisdom teeth are completely upright or only slightly angled. But, there’s still not enough room left in your jaws for your third molars to come in. In fact, your wisdom tooth might be right at the angle where your jawbone starts slanting upward again behind the last tooth. If that’s the case — or if your wisdom tooth is slightly impacted against the next tooth — your third molar may only partially erupt into the mouth.
It doesn’t seem like quite the big deal. Or does it? Actually, partial impaction is a big risk for your oral health. These areas are extremely difficult to clean and as such, they soon develop cavities or an infection.
Pain or Swelling — Most teeth have some type of an “eruption cyst” around them when they’re getting ready to come through the gums. For wisdom teeth, it’s no different. Cysts, infections, or disease — not to mention the pressure your teeth put on the rest of your mouth — can cause chronic pain and swelling that seems to never completely go away. This reason alone is one of the biggest concerns Summit Dental Center sees wisdom teeth extraction patients for.
Decay and Infection — You’ve probably figured it out by now, but wisdom teeth are hard to care for. Partial eruption allows food debris and plaque biofilm to collect under the gums. Even if your third molars are fully erupted, they can be difficult to reach with a toothbrush and floss. That’s why so many of them wind up developing cavities or periodontal disease. Both of these conditions can easily spread to your healthy adjacent teeth, further complicating the issue. That’s why a preemptive wisdom teeth extraction may be the best answer if you’re trying to keep your teeth healthy for life.
Are you having problems, pain, or getting food stuck around your third molars? Schedule a consultation at Summit Dental Center to find out if you need a wisdom teeth extraction or not. Our team of Houston dentists can answer any questions you might have, and discuss sedation options to help you remain comfortable throughout the extraction process. Call us today!