At some point between the late teens and early twenties, most people will grow a third set of molars. These are called wisdom teeth, due to their appearance at a time when we are getting a bit wiser. They will be the last set of adult teeth to emerge. Wisdom teeth are also well-known for the complications they can cause, sending many patients to dental clinics for extraction.
Why do we have wisdom teeth?
Each year, dentists remove a large number of wisdom teeth from patient’s mouths. The UK sees 1 million extractions per year, and the US, 5 million. Why then, do we have wisdom teeth in the first place? It seems that early human diets containing tough uncooked foods like, roots, nuts, meats and leaves required these teeth to chew properly. However, as our diets changed, our third molars became unnecessary.
How do wisdom teeth normally develop?
Although they won’t make their appearance known until later, our wisdom teeth begin to grow in childhood. First, the tooth calcifies inside the jaw, eventually growing a crown. Then the root begins to grow longer. Finally, the teeth emerge in adulthood. This process can take many years and it won’t happen at the same time for everyone. Typically, the upper wisdoms come in before the lower set. Men are also more likely to see their wisdom teeth before women.
What are signs that your wisdom teeth are starting to come in?
Most people notice some discomfort when the wisdom teeth begin to emerge. Others don’t have any symptoms at all. An expert dentist can tell you definitively if your wisdom teeth are emerging, using an x-ray. However, there are a few common signs that may precede the eruption of these teeth.
Sign #1 – Irritated gums
- As wisdom teeth begin to emerge, it is common for the gum tissue to become enflamed. Food particles can also irritate the area further and add to the unpleasant sensation. Rinsing the area gently with warm salt water may help relieve this discomfort.
Sign #2 – Recurring pain
- The pain associated with wisdom teeth is usually infrequent at first, but may become more constant as the tooth grows in. The pain could begin as a dull ache and grow sharper. Keep track of any dental pain you experience and be sure to seek out a local dentist if necessary.
Sign #3 – Redness of the gums
- The section of gum where the wisdom teeth are about to erupt may change colour to a dark red or pink. Some may also experience bleeding from the area. Keep this area clean by brushing, but do so gently.
Sign #4 – Partial eruption
- It is not uncommon for wisdom teeth to begin protruding slightly before going dormant again. This may leave you with a small piece of tooth sticking out of the gum. It is important to brush this area every day, just as you would a normal tooth.
Sign #5 – Scraping or biting the inside of the cheek
- The appearance of new teeth may take some getting used to. Many people find the new molars scraping against the inside of their cheek. Others may accidentally bite their tongue more often.
Sign #6 – Headaches and jaw pain
- Some wisdom teeth may be unable to emerge entirely from the gums. These teeth are impacted and may require extraction at a dental office nearby. You will likely notice a building sensation of pressure which can lead to headaches if your wisdom teeth are growing in this way.
Sign #7 – Appearance of a pericoronal flap
- If a wisdom tooth emerges at an odd angle, some gum tissue may be left covering it. This is called a pericoronal flap, and may put you at risk for pericoronitis, an infection of the area. Symptoms can include inflammation, bleeding, and bad breath. See a dentist if you think you may be experiencing this symptom.
When you should visit a dentist for wisdom tooth extraction
Not everyone will experience the same symptoms as their wisdom teeth emerge. But if you do experience discomfort, it is important to consult a professional dentist for advice on how to proceed. If you live in North Vancouver, come visit Smile Well Dental for a consultation. At the very least get an x-ray done to determine whether or not a wisdom tooth extraction is right for you.