The third molars
What’s in a name?
The majority of people get their third set of molars–or “wisdom teeth”, somewhere between the ages of 17 and 25. These teeth are believed to appear once a person is considered “wiser”, versus the time during childhood when most tooth growth occurs–hence the clever nickname.
A short history lesson
Anthropologists believe that about 5,000 years ago, humans had much larger jaws than we currently do. These large teeth were necessary in order to chew food to a digestible size. Wisdom teeth were essential in this process.
As humans evolved, so did our brains. Our faces flattened and less space was available for our teeth. When something stops being useful to our body, evolution suggests that over time our bodies stop making room for them. For some people, this was a huge problem. Thus, began the process of wisdom teeth removal.
It’s a numbers game
Currently, most adults have four molars appear, although some have more or less. Some people are even born with none! The reasons why can vary from your ethnic background, to a genetic mutation.
Bye, Bye, Bye
While they once served a purpose to our daily needs, current research shows that the majority of people have had–or will have–them removed. In fact, wisdom teeth are now classified by evolutionary biologists as vestigial organs, which are body parts that have become functionless due to evolution. Basically–we don’t need them, and no–they don’t make us wiser. Darn it!
Should I have mine removed?
The four main reasons to have your wisdom teeth removed are as follows;
1.) To prevent the crowding of your back teeth.
2.) To keep them from getting stuck in your jaw.
3.) If you’re in pain.
4.) To prevent gum disease and tooth decay in the third molars.
If you do have wisdom teeth that you think might need to be removed, it’s stongly recommended you have them removed when you’re a young adult, in order prevent future problems–and for an easier and faster healing time.
Any surgery performed after the age of 35, has higher risks for complications and longer healing times. The best time to have them removed is when the roots are about two-thirds formed, which usually occurs between the ages of 15 to 18.
What to expect
You’ll be extremely sore for the few days proceeding the surgery. Expect bleeding, soreness, numbness and chipmunk-like cheeks.
Be careful not to bite the inside of your cheek while numb and stick to a soft or liquid diet. We also recommend that you avoid drinking from a straw, coughing, sneezing, or smoking. These are the “root” causes of dry sockets.
Dry sockets occur in 2-5% of patients. These occur when the blood clot at the site of the tooth extraction has been disrupted or disintegrates before the open wound has fully healed. The underlying bone and nerves are exposed and this results in excruciating pain–not only in the socket–but also along all of the nerves on the side of your face. Ouch!!!
If this does occur, call us ASAP! Over-the-counter medications alone will not cut it. Your dentist or surgeon can provide treatments to relieve your pain and heal the sockets.
Talk to your dentist
All decisions involving your oral care treatments should be discussed with your dentist. They will be able to advise you on when, and if, your wisdom teeth should be removed. Their location, spacing, impact on your other teeth, and your overall oral health will be taken into account. Just like every tooth, every patient is unique.
Changing Lives, One Smile at a Time
Dr. Randall Burba is an American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry accredited dentist, practicing in Salem, Massachusetts. He considers himself an artist–with teeth and beyond! He often paints, draws and has a passion for woodworking.