Wisdom teeth extraction has become almost a routine procedure for teens and young adults—for legitimate reasons. Wisdom teeth can crowd the mouth and cause pain and inflammation, as well as being potential sites of infection. If you’re suffering from any of these problems or your orthodontist recommends it, wisdom teeth removal is often the best option. Although wisdom teeth used to serve an important function, modern eating habits mean you don’t really need them.
What Are Wisdom Teeth?
Wisdom teeth are the final four molars to come in at the back of your mouth, one on each side on the top and bottom. They usually appear when you’re in your late teens or early twenties, though in some people they don’t appear at all. Like other molars, wisdom teeth are roughly rectangular and flat, which makes them ideal for crushing and breaking up food and mixing it with saliva so that it’s easy to swallow and digest.
Unfortunately, wisdom teeth often cause dental problems. According to the American Dental Association, reasons for wisdom teeth removal include infection, pain, tumors, cysts, gum disease, damage to adjacent teeth and tooth decay. You might also need to have your wisdom teeth extracted if you’re having braces fitted or receiving other cosmetic or corrective dentistry.
Why You Have Wisdom Teeth
When they cause so many problems, it seems strange that we have wisdom teeth, but they used to be helpful to humans. As the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) explains, in ancient times the human diet was much coarser than it is today. A coarse diet wears down molar teeth, which meant that they took up less space in the jaw and were often lost. Wisdom teeth appear last of all adult teeth, and they allowed us to continue chewing when the front molars were worn out or missing.
Why Do Wisdom Teeth Cause Problems?
Wisdom teeth cause problems today because our jaws don’t grow as large as they used to. Heavy chewing as a child and teenager encourages a large jaw. Today, a diet of processed and soft food means our jaws are smaller than they were even 300 years ago. Consequently, when wisdom teeth appear there is little or no room for them, and they often grow at the wrong angle or remain in the gum. According to the UCSB, the jury is out on whether wisdom teeth are true vestigial structures, which no longer have any biological function. For some people, wisdom teeth are regular molars that cause no problems.
Wisdom Teeth Removal
Removing wisdom teeth provides room for the other teeth to grow straight and removes potential sites of inflammation, pain and infection. Your orthodontist may recommend wisdom teeth removal, or your dentist might suggest the operation if you’re already experiencing problems or as a preventative measure. Wisdom teeth extraction is a surgical procedure if the teeth are impacted, which means they’re fully or partially trapped below the gum. Even if your wisdom teeth have completely come in and are healthy, positioned correctly and biting properly with the opposite teeth, your dentist may suggest their removal if you find it difficult to keep them clean and free of plaque.
What If You Don’t Want to Have Your Wisdom Teeth Extracted?
Depending on the position and health of your wisdom teeth, leaving them alone may be an acceptable option. Some people have naturally large jaws where their wisdom teeth sit comfortably and cause no problems. On the other hand, if you’re in pain or have already suffered an infection, wisdom teeth removal is likely to be the best solution for you. Also, if you are being treated by an orthodontist, she may be unable to complete her work unless your wisdom teeth are extracted.
No one wants unnecessary dental work, but, when it comes to wisdom teeth, it’s usually best to nip the problem in the bud. Having your wisdom teeth removed is an effective solution to what could become chronic toothache and infections if left untreated. Speak to your dental health professional to find out if the procedure is the right one for you or your children.