Wisdom Teeth 101: Everything You Need To Know
May 26, 2020
The all-consuming smell of formaldehyde, latex, and lollipops.
Garbled disjointed diatribes about….bees?
Do you remember what it was like after you got your wisdom teeth removed?
Or, maybe you were one of those lucky people whose wisdom teeth came in without any complications…or never came in at all!
Today, we are going to give you the low down on all things wisdom teeth. Whether your teenager (or even you!) have an appointment with your dentist to get them removed, we’ll tell you the basic information, history, and what to expect before, during, and after the dentists’ chair.
SO…WHAT EXACTLY ARE WISDOM TEETH?
- Wisdom teeth are the third molars to develop in the mouth.
- Typically, we have four wisdom teeth, but it is common for people to be born without one or more wisdom teeth. This condition is known as M3 agenesis.
- Wisdom teeth were named because the age at which they develop is known as the “Age of Wisdom.”
- Wisdom teeth generally erupt between the ages of 17 and 21, though that number fluctuates between populations based on genetics and heritage and could be as low as 13 and as high as 25.
- Most of us who have lived through those ages might strongly disagree with the classification that this is the “Age of Wisdom”.
- Certain populations, such as indigenous Mexicans, have an almost 100% rate of being born without wisdom teeth whereas other populations, such as Tasmanian Aboriginals, have an almost 0% rate of M3 agenesis.
- Men are more likely than women to have wisdom teeth.
WHAT IS THE EVOLUTIONARY HISTORY BEHIND WISDOM TEETH?
- Anthropologists believe that wisdom teeth were originally used to process foods such as tubers and uncooked meats that necessitated a hefty amount of wear and tear on the teeth. Along with genetic predisposition, heavy chewing and a high bite force at a young age stimulated jaw bone growth. However, due to natural selection and the advent of cooking and softer foods incorporated in our diets, our jaw size reduced over time, leaving less room from those third molars to emerge. In populations that rely on heavily processed, softer foods, the third molar is largely unnecessary.
- The oldest known case of an impacted wisdom tooth is dated to around 13,000-15,000 years ago in France of a 25-35 year old woman. Researchers argue that this case of impacted wisdom tooth is a result of a changed diet.
WHY ARE SO MANY WISDOM TEETH REMOVED?
- Wisdom teeth are generally removed to either treat or prevent symptoms of impacted teeth. They are, by and large, the most commonly impacted tooth. What exactly is an impacted tooth? An impacted tooth is a tooth that is growing at an angle preventing it from fully erupting. Teeth generally grow this way because there is insufficient room in the jaw for teeth to erupt.
- Impacted teeth can result in pain, bacteria build-up, tooth decay, gum disease, bone loss, cysts, tumors, tooth loss, and even infections in the heart, kidney or other organs. For these reasons, wisdom teeth extraction leads Americans to remove 10 million wisdom teeth every year and spend $3 billion on the outpatient procedures.
- There is some debate on whether preemptively removing wisdom teeth prior to any adverse symptoms is necessary since surgery poses sometimes unnecessary health risks.. not to mention the pretty substantial financial cost associated with the surgery. In 2008, the American Public Health association formally opposed preventive removal. However, some dentistry professionals maintain that surgery risks are greater later in life, so preventive surgery could help mitigate greater risks later on.
- Although we commonly associate teenagers with wisdom teeth removal, it is actually not terribly uncommon for people in their 50s, 60s, or 70s to have wisdom teeth removed, especially if they suffer from heart disease. The reason why is that a large Harvard Dental School of Medicine study showed that people with periodontal disease were a whopping 72% more likely to have a heart attack. So, if you’re older and considering undergoing wisdom tooth removal, know that you are not alone.
HOW ARE WISDOM TEETH DIAGNOSED?
- You are generally diagnosed by your dentist through Xrays. They will sometime solicit a secondary referral from an orthodontist. Be sure to be thorough when telling your dentist about any symptoms that you have such as bleeding gums, painful chewing, or bad breath. If your doctor says that your teeth are impacted but you don’t have symptoms, be sure to fully consider the benefits and risks of undergoing preemptive surgery to see if it is right for you.
WHAT SHOULD YOU EXPECT WHEN YOU GO TO GET YOUR WISDOM TEETH REMOVED?
- Do not eat or drink anything (including water) for at least 8 hours before surgery.
- You will be in and out of surgery on the same day and be given local or general anesthesia depending on your dentist. It’s important, therefore, to have a designated driver to take you to and from your appointment.
- Wisdom tooth removal surgery generally takes about an hour and a half.
- After the surgery, you will be, shall we say, a bit loopy so make sure you have someone looking out for you.
- After surgery, your gums will take at least 3 to 7 days to fully recover. You can resume normal activities (after the anesthesia has worn off!), but avoid strenuous activities that could promote increased bleeding or dislodge stitches. You should also avoid spitting, smoking, or using a straw.
- Facial swelling is very common for the first 24 hours. Expect cute little chipmunk cheeks. Use some ice to help with the swelling.
- Bleeding is also common. To help with bleeding, use gauze. For a more creative solution, you can use teabags which contain tannic acid that helps to form clots to prevent bleeding and a condition called dry socket. Dry socket happens when the blood clot forming over the gum is dislodged or dissolved prior to the wound healing, exposing the underlying bone and nerves leading to pain and possibly infection.
- It is important not to rinse for 24 hours after surgery. After that, ensure you do the typical dental routine of brushing, flossing and rinsing, but be careful around the gums where the teeth were removed. How do you clean the wisdom teeth wounds? Rinse with salt water, then tip your mouth to allow the water to slowly dribble out.
- Expect a liquid diet for a few days. Applesauce, milkshakes, pudding, mashed potatoes. Basically, anything you would feed your great-grandmother Edna. Work up to softer foods after a few days like noodles. Don’t return to any hard-to-chew foods until the symptoms have completely subsided. Unfortunately, this liquid diet does not include alcohol or caffeine.
- Need some pain relief? Try natural remedies like peppermint tea, clove oil, garlic, ginger, tea tree oil, aloe vera, methanol, turmeric, wheatgrass, oregano oil, thyme, cayenne pepper, or lavender oil. More of a “give me the drugs” kind of person? Aspirin works just fine too.
- Don’t be a hero. If you are experiencing excessive pain, bleeding or swelling that lasts beyond a week, trouble swallowing or breathing, fever, nasal blood or pus, be sure to check in with your dentist right away.
- Don’t forget to use your favorite RADIUS products before and after surgery to keep your mouth healthy and infection-free.
Congratulations! By reading this document you have officially graduated from Wisdom Teeth 101. Now whether you, or your child, is about to undergo wisdom tooth removal, you are totally prepared.
One more thing before you go… We know surgery can be scary for a lot of people, but remember this is a very common procedure. Chances are you’ll be just fine. Plus, you get a milkshake out of it so it can’t be all bad!