You might wonder who came up with the name “wisdom teeth” for the third molars. While the exact answer to that may be unknown, perhaps it isn’t such a coincidence that these teeth are the last adult teeth to come in, typically arriving between late teens and mid-twenties. According to research, the pre-frontal cortex portion of our brain is not fully developed until after age 25. That clever timing feels like a pun. It is not possible to determine the way wisdom teeth will erupt (appear visible), if they will be correctly positioned and functional, but there needs to be enough room to accommodate them inside the mouth. An exam and x-rays can help to assess that, but oftentimes there is just not enough room in the jaw to allow for the wisdom teeth to erupt and remain healthy.
We refer to wisdom teeth that do not have enough room to come in and develop properly as impacted. When wisdom teeth are impacted, a patient can experience symptoms such as swollen and red gums, tenderness, jaw pain, bad breath or an unpleasant taste in the mouth. It’s common for the mouth to be unable to sustain the crowding that occurs with the third molars, causing them to become stuck. An impacted wisdom tooth can be slightly visible (partially impacted) or not at all (fully impacted). Either way, the teeth might grow straight or at an angle which can cause various problems like damage to surrounding teeth due to pressure; tooth decay because these teeth are much harder to access; infection or gum disease caused by bacteria or inflammation in the area.
In some cases, wisdom teeth cause no obvious symptoms or trouble, but because they are harder to reach and clean they may be at risk for complications down the road. Impacted wisdom teeth that cause pain or any other dental problems need to be surgically removed (extracted). However, some dentists and oral surgeons will recommend removing them even when they are not causing symptoms in an effort to prevent likely problems in the future.
Extraction of wisdom teeth is usually performed as an outpatient procedure. You may have either local anesthesia or sedation anesthesia to numb your mouth. Through an incision in the gums, the tooth is removed and then the empty space (socket) is closed with stitches and packed with gauze. Patients can sometimes have some pain and bleeding or possible swelling of the area, though they receive instructions on caring for the incision area and managing the pain, such as using a cold compress and taking pain medication.
Some may conclude that it is wise to remove the so called “wisdom teeth.”