Wisdom Teeth Removal
If you are between the ages of 13 and 20 and have been seeing your dentist regularly, you will already know what wisdom teeth are and how many of them you have (if you’ve taken X-rays). Your dentist has likely been following the progression of the wisdom teeth to ensure that they are not at risk of influencing other teeth. If your wisdom teeth are about to erupt or have recently erupted, your dentist may have already recommended removal.
If trips to the dentist have been infrequent, the pressure in the back of your mouth as these large teeth erupt is sure to get your attention. These teeth are, after all, the largest teeth in the human mouth and the last to make their appearance.
Although most people have four wisdom teeth, others are born with fewer or more. Wisdom teeth are often challenging to retain safely since they offer a range of possible concerns. If your dentist is recommending that you have your wisdom teeth removed, it is likely that your wisdom teeth are too large, or they are impacted (stuck) in the bone or soft tissues and putting other teeth at risk. Why are these teeth so much harder to manage than the rest of our natural teeth?
Wisdom Tooth Challenges
You probably thought you were doing just fine with the number of teeth you had, and you were probably right. Researchers believe that these enormous teeth are an evolutionary leftover from the days where we would spend hours chewing plant matter for nutrition. These teeth aren’t just big – their root systems are big, too. This would have made these teeth strong and stable – a perfect fit for the diet of the day. These days, wisdom teeth are not needed to consume a varied diet, and they often do more harm than good.
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Wisdom teeth have a large surface area with many peaks and valleys. This is great for chewing plants, but not so great if you consume a modern diet complete with starches and simple sugars. These foods pack into the valleys and small spaces between teeth and proliferate bacterium. The subsequent acid attack on the teeth is prolonged until the next time you brush and/or floss. When you do brush, it can be difficult to access the tooth with your toothbrush in order to clean out the deep valleys. Over time, the difficulty in keeping our wisdom teeth clean results in decay.
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When there is a tooth infection in a wisdom tooth it becomes critical to resolve it quickly, before it turns dangerous. This is owing to the fact that our teeth are connected to our blood supply and can, therefore, spread infection into other tissues. Add to this that it is not uncommon for the roots of these teeth to be positioned close to the sinus cavity or major nerve. These more complex cases may be referred to an oral surgeon for safe extraction.
Even when wisdom teeth aren’t causing pain or discomfort, they are often bad neighbours to other teeth. The roots of a wisdom tooth can damage the roots of other teeth, or cause teeth to crowd in order to accommodate it. When making their recommendation, your dentist will consider the health of neighbouring teeth.
Many wisdom teeth do not fully emerge, that is, they get stuck before descending fully through the bone and soft tissues. Perhaps the most common cause of wisdom tooth infections is a partially erupted tooth that is still partially covered by a flap of gum tissue. That gum tissue acts like a bacteria and food debris trap and chronic infection is the result.
Wisdom teeth can develop problematic cysts, typically at the tip of their roots, called dentigerous cysts. These cysts are dangerous because they often don’t cause any symptoms until the cyst is large enough to visibly disrupt other teeth or cause swelling in the gum tissue. This is another reason to see your dentist regularly, since problems like these cysts should be treated before they have done damage to other tissues.
What to Expect
Despite what you may have been told, wisdom teeth can be safely extracted by your general dentist with local anesthetic. Referrals to specialists are reserved for complex cases, or for patients requiring additional sedation.
The experience of the extraction is similar to any standard extraction with the exception of the recovery protocol. Since removing your wisdom teeth will leave a wound, your dentist will provide detailed information about how to care for the extraction site at home and avoid ‘dry socket’ – a term for the painful condition caused when the protective blood clot is accidentally removed from the wound.
If you have questions about this or other services offered by our general dentist, contact our clinic today.
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