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Wisdom Teeth

Introduction

Why do Wisdom teeth cause such problems?

What does impacted mean?

What kind of problems can impacted third molars cause?

Will an antibiotic cure the problem?

When is removal necessary?

How is the tooth removed?

Resources

 


Introduction

Wisdom teeth, or third molars, are the very back teeth in the upper and lower jaw. These teeth typically appear between the ages of 17 to 26. In some people only some wisdom teeth erupt and in others they may not at all. It may take 5-10 years from the appearance of the first wisdom tooth until the last one is completed its' growth.

Wisdom teeth may become stuck (impacted) if they do not have enough room to grow in properly. This can cause pain, swelling, gum infection and cavities. It's a good idea to have a dentist evaluate your teeth to determine if some or all of your wisdom teeth need to be extracted.

Why do Wisdom teeth cause such problems? 2

Studies show that over the course of time, humans have developed smaller jaws. The shape of the modern human mouth is often too small to accommodate wisdom teeth. It is theorized that as humans learned to harness fire for cooking foods (thus requiring less chewing) and developed blade tools to better process food before consumption, they reduced the need for strong jaws to chew food.

What does impacted mean?

When wisdom teeth don't have room to grow or they haven't reached their final position by age 25-26 they are considered impacted (stuck). However, if jaw size is big enough wisdom teeth sometimes undergo incremental growth spurts for a period of time and may take several years to complete growth. Less frequently complete growth may not occur until 30 years.

What kind of problems can impacted third molars cause?

The most common symptom is pain when partially erupted wisdom teeth are attempting to grow. Food particles and bacteria can become trapped between the tooth and inflamed gums as well causing gum infections. Less commonly destructive cysts can form. Not all wisdom teeth cause problems, however.

Will an antibiotic cure the problem?

Antibiotics work well for local infections. However, if the underlying cause is not treated infections may be recurrent. The real problem is that the tooth can't fit in your mouth.

When is removal necessary?

Extraction of wisdom teeth is generally recommended when: 1

  • Wisdom teeth only partially erupt. This leaves an opening for bacteria to enter around the tooth and cause an infection. Pain, swelling, jaw stiffness and general illness can result.

  • There is a chance that poorly aligned wisdom teeth will damage adjacent teeth.

  • A cyst (fluid-filled sac) forms, destroying surrounding structures such as bone or tooth roots. Patients should ask the dentist about the health and positioning of their wisdom teeth. The dentist may make a recommendation for removal or send the patient to an oral surgeon for further evaluation.

Early removal may be recommended before problems occur if is apparent that there will not be enough room for the wisdom tooth and it has the potential to injure the second molar.

At an early age, people should be evaluated by their dentist who can track third molar development with the help of X-rays. Second molars should be visible to lessen the chance of damaging them during surgery.

How is the tooth removed? 2

Surgery for impacted wisdom teeth consists of removing gum tissue over the tooth, gently stripping connective tissue away from the tooth and bone, removing the tooth and sewing the gum back up.

Almost all people experience considerable pain and swelling for the first several days and may require prescription pain medication. Pain and swelling progressively decrease over the next 1-2 weeks.

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Resources

  1. "Frequently Asked Questions: Patients & Consumers- Surgical Procedures" @ http://www.ada.org
  2. "Third Molar Extractions" from Jay Orlikof D.D.S @ http://www.drjay.com

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