Wisdom teeth are a strange phenomenon in the modern mouth. These third and final molars are late to arrive, late to emerge and often accompanied by unwanted complications.
In a much earlier stage of human evolution, these large, powerful third molars were likely very important to help people fully chew their food. They may have also served as an “extra set” of back teeth if nearby molars became infected or ground down from too much use.
But today, wisdom molars are better known for the complications they cause than for any useful purpose they fulfill. Our dental team at 3V Dental of Port Washington, NY teaches us what we need to know about wisdom teeth, molars, extraction, and dental health.
Your mouth goes through many changes in your lifetime. One major dental milestone that usually takes place between the ages of 17 and 21 is the appearance of your third molars. Historically, these teeth have been called wisdom teeth because they come through at a more mature age.
When they come through correctly, healthy wisdom teeth can help you chew. It’s normal to feel a little discomfort when your wisdom teeth appear, but if you have pain, see your dentist immediately.
What Are Wisdom Teeth?
Why are these molars named “wisdom,” you might be wondering? There is no medical reason for this term. Rather, these molars are not present at birth but only start to grow around the age of seven.
They will grow for 10 years or longer before they are finally ready to join the rest of the teeth in your mouth. This late-arriving behavior is what has earned these molars the nickname of “wisdom” teeth.
In terms of position in the jaw, the wisdom molars are the very last molars in the mouth. Until they grow in, the area is covered by a mound of gum skin.
In some less common cases, these third molars never grow at all. And some people only have one or two third molars but not all four.
Signs & Symptoms of Impacted Wisdom Teeth
Because the third molars are so late to grow in, it is easy to forget all about them.
For this reason, many people worry there is something wrong when that skin mound in the very back of their mouth starts to get tender, sore and swollen.
Signs and symptoms of incoming third molars can also include sudden onset of tooth movement. This is because the third molars don’t fit easily in the mouth for the majority of people.
Their sudden eruption can crowd the nearby teeth and cause dental hygiene issues and even the need for tooth correction with braces.
Causes of Impacted Wisdom Teeth & Molars
Why doesn’t everyone get all four third molars? Why do some people have trouble with their wisdom teeth and other people don’t have any problems?
The causes for impacted or painful third molars can often be traced back to genetics, which in turn affect jaw size, jaw shape, whether the molars will erupt normally or grow abnormally and other factors.
Paleontologists highlight that the human head and jaw is smaller and shaped differently in modern homo sapiens (us) than in earlier prototype humans, and this can also cause problems when these ancient molars begin to grow in.
When you are not sure what to expect for yourself or a child, it can be helpful to talk with family members and remember your own dental health history. If a close family member or relative had partially or fully impacted third molars, it is more likely you and your children may experience this complication as well.
Diagnosing Impacted Wisdom Teeth & Molars at 3V Dental in Port Washington
The first step on the road to diagnosis of impacted or infected third molars is to schedule your appointment with our dental team here at 3V Dental in Port Washington. Your dentist will do a full visual exam of the affected area and also take X-ray images to see what may be occurring under the skin’s surface in your jaw.
X-rays or images are often required because this will show whether the molars are growing upright or are growing sideways (impacted). If the molars are growing upright and appear to be coming in normally, removal can often be avoided.
However, if the appearance of the third molars is projected to cause tooth crowding that may lead to dental hygiene issues or the need for orthodontia, your 3V Dental Associated dentist may still recommend tooth removal.
If one or more third molars are partially or fully impacted, tooth removal is always recommended. Otherwise, these abnormal extra teeth can easily become infected and cause more extensive damage in the mouth.
Treatment of Impacted Wisdom Teeth & Molars
The most commonly recommended treatment for problematic third molars is extraction.
Tooth extraction is a safe procedure that your 3V Dental dentists can perform. Usually, it only takes a week to recover fully from an extraction process.
Extraction is also the best remedy for chronic pain relating to abnormal third molars. Extraction also helps guard against later tooth infection that may lead to periodontal disease.
In the event that the extraction procedure cannot be performed at our Port Washington dental clinic, our 3V Dental Associates team will recommend you to a local Port Washington oral surgeon to perform the procedure.
Treatment for partially impacted molars
For partially impacted third molars that have broken through the skin of the gums but are stuck in this position, it is often possible to extract them in a day procedure in your dentist’s office.
Treatment for fully impacted molars
When third molars are fully impacted beneath the skin of the gums, this typically requires a more extensive surgery.
Your dental surgeon may need to go in and break up the impacted molars into smaller pieces before extracting them to avoid causing damage to the surrounding teeth and gum tissue.
When this is the case, it may be necessary to do the extraction in a hospital setting rather than in the dentist’s office.
Complications Due to Impacted Wisdom Teeth & Molars
While it is true that tooth extractions happen every day in dentist offices around the world, this doesn’t mean complications can’t or won’t arise from time to time.
By far the most common complications associated with molar extraction are infection and a condition called dry socket.
Dry socket is quite rare and only affects up to five percent of people. But when it occurs, it causes a lot of pain and demands instant relief.
After the third molars are extracted, an empty hole is left behind. Inside this empty hole is exposed bone from the jawline and exposed nerve endings. The first thing the body does is to cover this exposed area over with a protective blood clot.
But sometimes, the clot gets displaced and then the socket is exposed again. All that exposed bone and nerve endings is very sensitive – even to air. The pain can be quite intense and the risk of infection high.
Dry socket is a painful condition that sometimes occurs after a tooth is extracted. It happens when the blood clot that forms over your socket is displaced; leaving bone and nerves exposed. If this happens, notify your dentist.
You will need to visit our dental team for treatment right away. Your 3V Dental Associates dentist will clean out the socket, apply antibiotic treatments and put protection in place. You will be given instructions for pain medication relief and often antibiotics will also be prescribed to guard against infection.
It usually takes about a week and a half for dry socket to resolve.
Unfortunately, dental infection is always a possibility whenever a tooth is extracted. If the molar was already infected, that risk is increased yet again.
Careful attention to your dentist’s post-operative dental hygiene instructions can reduce the risk you will experience any mouth infection.
Wisdom molars are a blast from our collective evolutionary past. No longer needed yet still present for most people today, these large molars require careful and ongoing attention the moment they begin to form and grow.
By understanding how third molars can affect existing teeth and mouth health and knowing what warning signs to watch for that they are growing abnormally, you can seek dental guidance immediately to guard against the risk of jaw crowding and infection.
Schedule Your Wisdom Teeth Appointment at 3V Dental
Thinking it’s time to schedule your appointment with 3V Dental Associates of Port Washington to discuss your wisdom teeth or molar discomfort? Contact our professional dental team today.