Wisdom Teeth: Can I Keep Mine?

Wisdom teeth have nothing to do with wisdom.  They get their name from the fact that they typically “erupt” (break through the gums and enter the mouth) between ages 18 and 25.  This is probably where the term came from, as this is when people reach adulthood.  Their official name is third molars because they are the third set of molars.

Why Do Humans Even Have Wisdom Teeth?

We get this question a lot.  If everyone needs to have them removed, why do we even have wisdom teeth?  From an evolutionary standpoint, human jaws have changed over time to become much smaller than our ancestors’ jaws were.  Most scientists point to changes in diet as the cause of the smaller jaw size.  With the advent of refined carbohydrates, we no longer need three full sets of molars (twelve teeth) to grind tough grains.

So jaws gradually became smaller and smaller, making less and less room for wisdom teeth.

Can I Keep My Wisdom Teeth?

Actually, some people can!

There are several different factors that determine whether a person can function well with wisdom teeth for their lifetime.

Size of Jaw

Some people, despite the evolutionary changes in the entire species, still maintain enough space in their jaws for wisdom teeth.  It is not a surprise that people still come in all different shapes and sizes, and the same holds true for jaws.  There are many people who have upper and lower jaws that are large enough to allow fully developed wisdom teeth to erupt and function normally for their entire lives.

Size of Wisdom Teeth

The teeth themselves have an impact on sustainability of wisdom teeth.  Many wisdom teeth are smaller than normal molars with underdeveloped roots.  As these will not contribute to chewing force and have a higher risk for tooth loss, we do not recommend that you keep this type of wisdom tooth.

Normal, full-sized wisdom teeth with well-developed root structures can function well and withstand chewing forces.  Therefore, it is possible to keep this type of wisdom tooth.

Cleansability

This is perhaps the most important factor in the decision to keep or remove wisdom teeth.  In order to have a good long-term prognosis of wisdom teeth, you must be able to properly and consistently clean them!

The problem with most wisdom teeth is that their location in the furthest reaches of your mouth make them difficult, if not downright impossible, to clean.  This leads to greater plaque accumulation, which then leads to a higher risk for cavities and gum disease.

You may say, “Well, so what?  If you’re just going to extract them anyway, why do I need to clean them?”  That is a great question!  The reason you need to keep wisdom teeth clean is that the cavities and gum disease you could develop there will spread.  By allowing cavities and gum disease to grow on your wisdom teeth, you are putting your other teeth, which you do not want to remove, at risk.

Cavity Risk

If you already have a high risk for new cavities, then you should not attempt to keep your wisdom teeth.  No matter how great you are at cleaning your teeth, wisdom teeth will always harbor more bacteria than the other teeth in your mouth.  Those with a tendency to get cavities very easily should remove the wisdom teeth because they are a source of bad, cavity-causing bacteria in the mouth.

Gum Disease Risk

The same holds true for gum disease.  The specific bacteria that cause severe and chronic gum disease are great at finding hiding spots in the mouth to lurk within.  The wisdom teeth are one of those great hiding spots.  Removing them helps you control your overall bacterial load that impacts your gum disease and therefore helps you fight the gum disease more effectively.

When Should I Have My Wisdom Teeth Removed?

Many people elect to wait until they are having a problem with their wisdom teeth before considering their removal.  This often puts you at risk for dangerous infections and pain.  We recommend a quick consultation with your dentist first to determine whether or not you could keep your wisdom teeth.  If one of our Premier Dentists confirms that you are NOT one of the people with a large jaw, normal-sized wisdom teeth that are cleansable and a low risk for cavities and gum disease, then you should have them removed as soon as possible.

Sooner Rather Than Later

There are a few important reasons wisdom teeth should be removed as soon as possible.  This is because the patient’s age affects both the size and position of the wisdom tooth and the body’s ability to heal.

Teeth develop from the biting surface down to the tip of the root.  This process takes anywhere from 6 to 9 years.  By removing the wisdom teeth early, the surgeon is able to remove a much smaller “tooth”, sometimes only a fragment.  This means there is a smaller surgical site, less trauma to the jawbone and gum tissues, and faster healing.

In contrast, waiting until a wisdom tooth has fully developed roots leads to a larger surgical site, more trauma to the jawbone and gum tissues, and slower healing.  In addition, a larger, more traumatic surgery carries a higher risk for dry socket, the painful post-operative complication commonly associated with wisdom teeth.

The other reason to consider wisdom tooth removal at an earlier age is that the human body simply heals faster and better in young people.  The older a patient is, the longer it takes their body to heal from a wisdom tooth surgery.

I Have my Wisdom Teeth.  What Should I Look Out For?

For people who still have their wisdom teeth, there are some specific problems you should be aware of and look out for.

The most common complication of wisdom teeth is a condition called pericoronitis.  This is inflammation of the gums around the wisdom tooth as it comes into the mouth.  Many wisdom teeth do not come into the mouth in perfect alignment.  Often, they are tipped or sideways, causing only a portion of the tooth to poke through the gum tissue.  We call this “partial eruption”.

A partially erupted tooth is at a high risk for pericoronitis because it allows the entry of plaque, bacteria and food debris underneath the gum tissue through the small opening created by the tooth.  This leads to inflammation, swelling, and pain around the wisdom tooth.  You can manage the symptoms at home with warm salt-water rinses and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications like Motrin or Advil.  However, this should alert you to the fact that your wisdom teeth probably need to come out sooner rather than later.

More Questions about Wisdom Teeth?

Call your nearest Premier Dental of Ohio location today to schedule a consultation with one of our dentists.  We can answer any wisdom tooth question you have and help you proceed with any necessary treatment to keep your mouth in perfect health.