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What Are Wisdom Teeth & Why Should They Be Removed?

Did you know that more than 90% of the American population has had their wisdom teeth removed? This procedure is done in dental offices across the United States to help people everywhere decrease the risk of pain, infection, and damage to their other teeth due to wisdom teeth. 

At Durango Dental, we perform wisdom teeth extractions very commonly, and Dr. Belt can answer any questions you have before going through with it. It may sound scary, but it is a procedure that happens very commonly and is low risk with a generally quick and seamless recovery time. 

We are going to try and answer all of your main questions but, if you have more or would like specific information for your teeth, feel free to give us a call. 

What Are Wisdom Teeth?

Wisdom teeth appear near the third row of molars, regularly erupting around age 17 - 25—sometimes earlier and sometimes not at all. 

For some people, these teeth come in just like all of your other teeth. Over the course of your life, you lose baby teeth and grow molars that help you chew—for some people this is how wisdom teeth are. For others, wisdom teeth come in crooked and can cramp your mouth causing pain, bite issues, and even infection. 

Some people joke that when you get your wisdom teeth extracted you become less “wise.” Fortunately, wisdom is not carried in your teeth, so this common procedure will have no influence on your IQ. So why are they most often referred to as wisdom teeth?

Rather than calling them the third row of molars, people often refer to these teeth as wisdom teeth because they appear later in life at a more mature age. 

Most commonly, people will get one wisdom tooth in each corner of their mouth. The teeth grow in behind the other molars. So, it is possible to have up to 4 wisdom teeth. Uncommonly, some people will have more than that and have an extra row behind the wisdom teeth. 

Why Do We Have Wisdom Teeth If We Don’t Need Them?

This question is very common and we get asked it all of the time. As humans who have evolved over time, there are many body parts that we have that we don’t necessarily “need” in our modern-day lives. Things like the appendix, tailbone, wisdom teeth and others are all things that we have that we don’t need anymore to live in our modern-day world.

In the past, these teeth were used to help chew up tough foods like meats and vegetables. The extra row of molars helped grind food into more digestible bits before the days of forks, knives, and consistent cooking. 

While we now have things that allow us to get away without our wisdom teeth, at one point our ancestors needed this extra row of chompers. 

Throughout evolution, some people now don’t even get wisdom teeth in the first place, and some people only get 1, 2, or 3 rather than all 4. 

In some cases, wisdom teeth grow totally fine and allow people that extra row of teeth to chew food. In other situations, these teeth cause pain, swelling, and infection which causes need for removal. 

Why Do Wisdom Teeth Need to Be Removed?

Not every person who has wisdom teeth needs to have them removed. They can happily stay if they are healthy, grow straight, don’t cause overcrowding in the mouth, and the person can take care of them (brush and floss) like all other teeth. If these criteria can’t be met, they usually need to be extracted. 

The most common problems caused by wisdom teeth that often result in surgical extraction are:

Inability to be properly cleaned: If the teeth grow into the mouth crooked or too far back, it can be very difficult to properly clean them. This can result in oral issues that are hard to address and a breeding ground for bacteria. If this happens, extraction is the best option to decrease the risk of future infection and other dental problems. 

Wisdom teeth don’t fully erupt the gums: When a tooth “erupts,” that basically just means that it pokes through the gums and grows all of the way in like it should. If the wisdom teeth, for whatever reason, don’t fully erupt, it is very easy for them to get infected. This infection often leads to worse damage to the neighboring teeth. If the wisdom teeth don’t grow all of the way, they need to be extracted to minimize future dental problems. 

Cause overcrowding and pain in the mouth: If there is not enough room in the back of a person's mouth for more teeth, the wisdom teeth may begin to grow in crooked, or underneath already existing teeth. If this happens, the molars that are healthy and straight can become damaged. This overcrowding in the mouth can also be extremely uncomfortable and cause pain. When this happens, the wisdom teeth need to be removed. 

There are other reasons why wisdom teeth may need to be removed, but these are the top three. These issues can cause even bigger problems to your mouth like:

  • Sinus infections and issues
  • Gum infections and inflammation
  • Damage to other teeth in your mouth
  • Pain 
  • Bite and jaw pain

When Should Wisdom Teeth Be Removed?

If any of these problems arise due to your wisdom teeth, they need to be removed as soon as a dentist says it is time. Even if the teeth are not causing you pain, you may still need to get them removed to decrease the risk of other negative effects.

In general, this timing depends heavily on your age, the formation of the teeth, and how they are positioned. If the tooth is impacted (not erupting through the gums), a dentist may want to act differently to help decrease the chances of infection. 

As with most things in life, younger people typically recover better and more quickly from this procedure. On average, most people get them removed between 16-25 years of age and the recovery can take anywhere between 3-4 days. 

After the removal, it is best to eat soft foods, keep the wounds clean, and obey the advice of your dentist. 

Contact Us!

Do you think your wisdom teeth are coming in? Or have they come in and are beginning to cause some discomfort? 

No matter what the circumstances are, at Durango Dental we want to help you. Our dentists can help you know how you should best move forward to decrease risks to your other teeth, minimize pain, and answer all of your questions. 

Give us a call today and book a consultation to learn how you should move forward with your wisdom teeth extraction.