Of all the dentists Portland Oregon offers, Dr. Beadnell consistently ranks as the top choice for patients. One of the reasons that patients consider our clinic so highly is our commitment to patient education. At every check-up, with every procedure, we strive to ensure that our patients understand exactly what’s happening and why.
Wisdom teeth and their potential dental health impacts can sometimes be a mysterious part of oral care for patients. After all, they arrive (or “erupt”) way past the hour of what would be considered fashionably late in the tooth eruption schedule– almost like an afterthought. Let’s take a moment to learn more about wisdom teeth.
Once upon a time…
Scientists believe that wisdom teeth were an evolutionary response to our early ancestor’s hearty diet of crude grains, tough fibers, and meat; all of which eroded teeth pretty fast. At the time, wisdom teeth worked out pretty well because our ancient family members had wider jaws than current homo sapiens, so there was plenty of room for the third molars when they arrived.
At this point in evolution, we now have softer foods at our disposal, as well as many tools with which to eat them. We no longer need a third set of molars to grind apart our undercooked meals. And as mentioned, our jaws are considerably smaller. For these reasons, scientists now consider wisdom teeth to be vestigial structures in the human body; they no longer serve a relevant purpose.
Development, eruption, and their consequent effects
Wisdom teeth may show up at what is controversially considered the “age of wisdom”– from 18 to 25 years of age– but they begin forming when people are 10 years old. The number of wisdom teeth that develop can vary from person to person. Some people do not develop third molars at all, others have 1, 2, 3, the standard 4, or, rarely, a supernumerary group of wisdom teeth!
By the time they come on the scene, the last teeth to erupt may have done so over a decade prior. Their arrival can take other teeth, who have grown accustomed to their places in the mouth, by surprise. The biggest concern and most common problem associated with wisdom tooth eruption is over-crowding, as the wisdom teeth shoulder aside existing teeth.
For this reason, wisdom teeth are frequently removed before actual eruption occurs: around 85% of patients in the US have their wisdom teeth removed. But there are other reasons to remove wisdom teeth.
A big impact
While less common than crowding, wisdom teeth can also become impacted. An impaction happens when another tooth blocks the wisdom tooth from fully erupting– often because the tooth is trying to erupt at an odd angle, thus butting head-on into another tooth. Impaction means the wisdom tooth cannot fully erupt.
Many times, an impacted wisdom tooth has no symptoms at all. But it can cause pain, inflammation, and even infection. If the tooth is partially erupted, it may be difficult to clean, and the resulting infection may even cause an abscess. Worst case scenarios, which take place rarely, can include bone loss or even breakage due to the infection and pressure that an impacted wisdom tooth creates.
This is why most dentists take a cautious approach to wisdom teeth. We’re rather take the smaller steps of prevention, and ensure patient safety and comfort, than take a chance that could lead to a much bigger problem.
Are you or a family member due for wisdom teeth arrival?
Talk to Dr. Beadnell and our team about any questions you may have at your next appointment.