The words ‘wisdom teeth’ make most people cringe as they evoke visions of discomfort and pain. It’s important to know a few things about wisdom teeth that can help you or someone you know avoid the horror stories you often hear.

It’s believed that wisdom teeth were much more important in prehistoric humans but with time, as our jaws have decreased in size, there is often not enough room for them to erupt and function normally. Instead of being useful, they are often crowded out and become impacted, which can lead to pain, infection, or damage to adjacent, otherwise healthy teeth. Because of this, it is important to have them evaluated early, before they have a chance to develop fully.

Wisdom teeth start to develop in most people in the teenage years. When they first begin to form, your dentist or oral surgeon can evaluate how their growth is progressing. If they are not going to have enough space to come in normally, or are growing at an abnormal angle, its generally best to take them out before they fully develop. Unfortunately, this is the case with most people. If wisdom teeth are not evaluated early and the root fully forms, they can be harder and more invasive to take out in the event that they become impacted, which can lead to more complications and pain after removal.

So what about wisdom teeth that were never removed in youth and have not caused any issues? There is a low percent of people who are lucky enough to have never developed wisdom teeth at all, and others who have had wisdom teeth grow in normally. If this is the case, there is no reason to treat them any differently than other teeth. Since they are far back in the mouth they can be harder to keep clean than the rest of our teeth, but with proper care they have the same longevity as other teeth and should be maintained that way. Having an extra set of healthy teeth can be an asset. If another molar is lost due to decay or disease, the wisdom teeth may drift into the space left, acting as a replacement molar.

If you are not one of the lucky few who have wisdom teeth grow in normally, remember that early evaluation and diagnosis is key. That way, if necessary, removal can happen before they are fully developed leading to quicker healing and less complications.

If more of us have wisdom teeth evaluations at the appropriate time, there may actually come a day where cringing isn’t the first thing we do when we hear the words ‘wisdom teeth.’

Dr. Nick is with Palm Desert Smiles and can be reached at (760) 568.3602.

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