What Are Wisdom Teeth?
Wisdom teeth are known in clinical and dental terms as the third set of molars. They usually erupt between the ages of 17 and 24 years old. On average, humans have four wisdom teeth, few individuals only develop one or two wisdom teeth, however, in certain cases they may never develop, and sometimes they are missing.
Most people never even realize they have these teeth until they start experiencing trouble with them. In fact, wisdom teeth cause numerous dental issues, including gum disease and infections.
Although wisdom teeth are not considered to be harmful in themselves, they do pose risks if left untreated. If you experience any symptoms associated with wisdom teeth, contact your dentist right away. He or she might recommend performing a root canal or teeth extraction procedure to alleviate discomfort and prevent further complications.
Does Everyone Have Wisdom Teeth?
Not everyone has wisdom teeth. A study shows that up to 35% of people have missing wisdom teeth. There are two main reasons why some individuals have no wisdom teeth:
- They are present but still haven’t erupted yet. Wisdom teeth may never erupt if they are impacted (not enough space for them to grow) and may remain dormant in the jawbone for many years.
- The lack of wisdom teeth is related to genes. A study carried out at Princeton University shows evolution has a large role to play in the absence of wisdom teeth. The study shows that the expanding brain size over hundreds and thousands of years meant that the head was no longer large enough to accommodate a larger brain and an extra set of teeth.
Therefore, a gradual shift in jaw engineering doesn’t allow a third molar to form correctly as they are no longer needed because we mainly rely on our first and second molars to do the chewing, so the lack of the third set won’t prevent you from eating without difficulty.
Another study carried out by the University of Pennsylvania discovered a chromosomal mutation called MYH16. This mutation is explained as an evolutionary trait that has allowed modern humans to grow larger brains and also means humans have less need of and room for wisdom teeth.
Opponents of evolution place greater weight on the dietary shift that has occurred in humans and dental hygiene in lessening our reliance on wisdom teeth, discounting the role of our evolving jaws and brains. However, with a simple comparison of ancient bones placing a prehistoric jaw and a modern jaw next to each other, the space is visibly smaller.
What is the Purpose of Wisdom Teeth?
Wisdom teeth, also known as third molars, are the last set of molars located at the back of the mouth. Their purpose can be best understood in the context of human evolution and dietary practices.
In ancient times, the human diet consisted mainly of raw plant material and uncooked meat, which required rigorous chewing. Such a diet led to significant tooth wear and even early tooth loss. Having a third set of molars provided an evolutionary advantage, ensuring that early humans maintained enough functional chewing surfaces throughout their life. The larger jaw structure of our ancestors could comfortably accommodate these extra teeth.
However, as human diets evolved and became softer and more processed with the advent of cooking and food processing, the wear and tear on teeth diminished. Additionally, changes in food preparation reduced the need for as many molars. Over time, with the emergence of tools, food processing, and cooking, the human jaw began to shrink, but the genetic coding for wisdom teeth persisted.
With the reduced size of contemporary human jaws, there often isn’t sufficient space for wisdom teeth to emerge properly. This lack of space can lead to issues like impaction (where the tooth doesn’t fully emerge from the gums), crowding of other teeth, or potential infection.
In today’s context, wisdom teeth have become more of an evolutionary vestige than a functional necessity. Many people undergo procedures to remove these teeth to prevent or alleviate dental complications. In essence, while wisdom teeth may have once played a vital role in the survival and food processing needs of our ancestors, in modern times, they often serve little practical purpose.
Should People Be Worried If They Have No Wisdom Teeth?
Not at all. The lack of wisdom teeth is common these days and in fact, they are the most commonly missing teeth in the mouth. You may find that either one of your parents or both or even your grandparents may have been missing these teeth. The lack of wisdom teeth does not hinder our efficiency in chewing and in fact, it is a blessing as this means you are less likely to have problems that need further treatment.
What Are Impacted Wisdom Teeth?
Wisdom teeth that don’t have enough space to erupt into the mouth. If they do not erupt within 12 months then they will cause problems. If they cause complications then they are known as impacted wisdom teeth. There are many ways that these can affect the body including infections and abscesses.
The first step in treating impacted wisdom teeth is removing them. There are two types of removal methods; the traditional method and the minimally invasive procedure. In the traditional method, the tooth is removed completely. However, if the tooth is impacted it can be difficult to remove. An incision around the gum line is made to allow the dentist to reach the root of the tooth. Once the tooth is exposed, the tooth is gently pulled out.
With the minimally invasive technique, the dentist removes only the tip of the tooth so that it can later be easily extracted. This method makes it easier for the patient to recover quicker.
Once the tooth is removed, antibiotics are prescribed to prevent infection. To help prevent pain or bleeding in the area, ice packs are applied. If the impacted wisdom teeth cause problems, then extraction may be necessary.
There are several different methods for extracting the tooth. One involves making an incision just below the gum line. A small amount of muscle is loosened to make room for the tooth. The tooth is then carefully lifted up and out. After that, the tooth is removed and replaced with a piece of bone from the jawbone.
Another method uses a technique called “enucleation”. This method involves cutting away the crown of the tooth, leaving the roots intact. After the enucleated tooth is removed, the dentist places a mold over the empty socket. This helps create a model of the area where the tooth was before it was removed. Using this information, a prosthetic tooth is fabricated. The prosthetic tooth is placed in the socket until the gums heal.
If the impacted wisdom teeth cause a problem, they can require treatment. Most people have at least 4 wisdom teeth, or maybe they don’t have wisdom teeth, however, some people actually have 6! Make sure that you get checked regularly if you have any symptoms of impacted wisdom teeth.
Should People Have Their Wisdom Teeth Extracted?
If they are causing issues and impacting the surrounding teeth, it is best to have the affected teeth removed by a dental specialist or oral and maxillofacial surgeon. After the oral surgery, there are a few guidelines you need to follow, including eating softer foods, taking pain relievers, and making sure to get some rest.
One also needs to ensure a clot is formed over the extraction site. Post an extraction, your dentist will give you a piece of gauze to bite on. Try to bite down and keep it in place at the site for at least an hour afterward. There’s a looming danger of dry socket formation if you fail to follow the oral surgeon’s instructions.
Concerned about your wisdom teeth? Enquire today.