Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Why are the third molars referred to as wisdom teeth?
A: According to the Oxford Dictionary, third molars are referred to as wisdom teeth because their common age of eruption is between 17 and 25. Aristotle explained it this way 2500 years ago!
The last teeth to come in man are molars called ‘wisdom-teeth’, which come at the age of twenty years, in the case of both sexes. Cases have been known in women upwards of eighty years old where at the very close of life the wisdom-teeth have come up, causing great pain in their coming; and cases have been known of the like phenomenon in men too. This happens, when it does happen, in the case of people where the wisdom-teeth have not come up in early years.
- Aristotle, The History of Animals
Q: Does everyone have 4 wisdom teeth?
A: No, although 4 is the most common number (one in each corner of the mouth); some people have 1, 2 or 3 wisdom teeth and some people don’t have any at all! In rare cases people develop additional teeth in the area of the wisdom teeth call ‘para-molars’ and may have 5 or more!
Q: Why do we have third molars if we just remove them?
A: Third molars helped our human ancestors to grind plant tissue during a time when leafy greens were a more important part of our diet. It is thought that the skulls of our ancestors had larger jaws with more room to accommodate more teeth which helped them to chew foliage more efficiently. This was important because humans lack the ability to efficiently digest cellulose, an important part of plant cell walls. Since the advent of agriculture, almost 10,000 years ago, our diets have become softer and include a larger amount of sugar and high energy foods. These diets have resulted in smaller jaws and not enough room for the wisdom teeth.
Q: What does it mean that a wisdom tooth is ‘impacted’?
A: Your dentist will classify a tooth by the degree to which it has been able to grow out of your jaw bone. If a tooth remains trapped in the bone, usually by a lack of space or close proximity to other teeth, the tooth is considered to be ‘impacted’. If your wisdom teeth are impacted and need to be removed, you will experience some degree of swelling around the lower wisdom teeth. Sometimes patient’s refer to this as the “chipmunk effect” because after surgery you look like you are packing nuts in your cheeks like a chipmunk!
Q: When is the best time to remove the wisdom teeth?
A: This is always a hard question to answer, simply because we can’t see into the future. However, if an X-ray indicates that there is inadequate room for the wisdom teeth to develop, then a few criteria may indicate the ideal time to remove the wisdom teeth. Your dentist will help you decide when the time is right.
- They are best removed before the roots have fully developed. Ideally, when root development is between 10% and 50%. Undeveloped roots increase the chances that your surgery will be successful and you will not suffer any long term negative effects.
- If possible, allowing the tooth to erupt as much as possible before it gets ‘stuck’ is also favorable. The closer the tooth gets to erupting, the simpler the surgery to remove it will be.
- Age is a consideration and patients in their late teens are ideal candidates for removal. However, in some instances patients as young as 10 years old or as old as 90 may require wisdom tooth removal.
- Oftentimes patients will remove the wisdom teeth to prepare for braces at the request of their Orthodontist.
- …And, if your wisdom teeth are hurting…this is a great time to remove them!
Q: What could happen if I don’t remove my wisdom teeth when my doctor recommends that I do?
A: If you wait until your adult years to remove your wisdom teeth several things become more complicated about your surgery.
- First, at some point in your late-late teens or early twenties, your lower wisdom teeth will grow root tips and finish developing. Once this happens, the risk of the root tips interfering with the nerve in your mandible raises the risk of temporary or permanent numbness in your lower lip and chin.
- The older you become, generally the more dense your bone becomes. Increased bone density will increase the difficulty of removing the wisdom teeth and could cause additional swelling and healing time.
- Younger patients heal faster and with less complications overall than older patients. Younger patients generally experience less dry socket, pain and swelling than older patients.
Q: What is a dry socket?
A: A dry socket (local alveolar osteitis) occurs when the clot is lost from the hole left in the jaw after a wisdom tooth is extracted. It generally results in a dull, uncomfortable ache. It is easily treated in the office where you had your wisdom teeth removed.
If you have any questions about wisdom teeth removal, call 435-652-1243 to meet with Dr. Hendrickson, he will be happy to look at your x-ray and discuss your case and options with you.
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