“Impacted wisdom teeth.” The term alone sounds ominous. What are wisdom teeth, why do they become impacted, what is the best way to treat them? These are questions people often ask.
What are “wisdom teeth” anyway?
Your third molars, located in the very back of your jaws, are your wisdom teeth. Most people have four of them.
Why is their name associated with wisdom?
They usually begin to come in when a person is 17 to 25 years old, a time when he or she can be said to begin to reach an age of wisdom.
Doesn't everyone get wisdom teeth?
While some people have more than four, others have fewer, and some have no wisdom teeth at all. Some people have wisdom teeth that can be seen in x-rays but do not erupt (grow up through their gums) and become visible.
What does “impacted” mean?
In normal usage, the term “impact” means “influence or effect.” In dental vocabulary, it means that a tooth is affecting another tooth or a nearby structure such as gums, nerves or blood vessels. Often an impacted wisdom tooth grows sideways into an adjacent tooth instead of growing upwards to come through the gums normally. This may be caused by a lack of room in your jaw for your third molars.
What kinds of problems can impacted wisdom teeth cause?
A wisdom tooth can impact the gum tissues surrounding nearby molars, leading to infection called “periodontal disease” (from the root words for “around” and “tooth.”) They can also cause root resorption in adjacent teeth, a process by which the tooth’s roots are slowly dissolved and eaten away.
What are the symptoms of impacted wisdom teeth?
Sometimes impacted teeth are asymptomatic — you feel nothing, even though damage is being done to gums and teeth surrounding the wisdom teeth. That's why it's a good idea to have regular checkups even if you are feeling no pain. Other times, impacted teeth can lead to acute inflammation and infection in surrounding gum tissues that is very painful.
Should I proactively have my wisdom teeth removed if they are not giving me any trouble?
Not necessarily but your wisdom teeth need to be evaluated. Generally speaking, however, it's better to remove wisdom teeth early, before they begin to cause dental problems. By the time a wisdom tooth starts to hurt, its neighboring teeth may already be in big trouble. In addition, younger people's wisdom teeth have undeveloped roots that make them easier to remove with fewer complications.