The Origins of Wisdom teeth
A third molar, commonly called wisdom tooth, is one of the three molars per quadrant of the human dentition. It is the most posterior of the three. Just like the rest of your teeth, wisdom teeth form inside your jawbone. But they form very late compared to our other teeth.
Second molars start developing around age three. Wisdom teeth often don’t start growing until age nine, but they’re highly variable, starting as young as five and as old as 15. They erupt from the gum between ages 17 and 24, if not older.
Wisdom teeth are remnants of an ancient era. The most widely accepted theory about wisdom teeth’s origins goes back to our early human ancestors.
Because they had a very different diet–mainly roots, raw meat and fibrous plants–they needed extra molars to grind up tough food. These days, we eat much softer foods. We also have smaller jaws that don’t fit in those third molars quite as well.
Because wisdom teeth often have no place to go, they can get stuck, or impacted, growing beneath a second molar. If they are unable to push up through the gums, they’ll push sideways, growing horizontally or at an angle and emerging from the side of the gums.
Wisdom teeth can also strong-arm their way into the mouth, pushing aside or damaging second molars, which can cause a chain reaction and move all the teeth.
Why Wisdom Teeth Cause Pain?
Generally, the pain from erupting wisdom teeth is due to a few causes:
1. Pericoronitis: When wisdom teeth partially erupt, bacteria may enter the area and cause an infection, swelling, stiffness, and pain. This condition is called pericoronitis. It is essentially the adult version of teething and is the most common cause of wisdom teeth pain.
If you don’t need your wisdom teeth removal, this pain can be managed with pain relievers and a dental cleaning until it resolves on its own.
2. Impaction: Often, a wisdom teeth tries to emerge without sufficient room to fully erupt. This can allow the tooth to attempt eruption at odd angles, pressing against other teeth.
When these teeth begin to crowd, they cause soreness and generalized pain in the jaw near the impacted wisdom teeth. There are 6 basic classifications of wisdom tooth impaction.
3. Cavities: Tooth decay, or “dental caries”, can form in the wisdom teeth and the adjacent second molars. Untreated tooth decay will eventually cause pain and sensitivity as inflammation and infection spread through the tooth.
4. Cysts/tumors: A more serious cause of the pain can be the result of tumors or cysts forming around the impacted wisdom teeth. These lesions can lead to bone loss in the jawbone and destruction of other healthy teeth if not treated properly.
Should you have your wisdom teeth removed?
Choosing to have wisdom teeth removal is not always a straightforward decision, even if they are impacted. Not all wisdom teeth should be removed, and you should consider the risks of wisdom teeth removal surgery versus the benefits of wisdom teeth removal.
You should have your wisdom teeth removed if:
- Your wisdom teeth are impacted and painful as they grow towards the second molars
- Your second or third molars (wisdom teeth) are infected or diseased
- The teeth are likely to cause orthodontic problems, such as crowding
- You’re at a high risk of developing tooth decay in the future
- You are at risk for periodontitis (gum disease) and related disorders (diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, etc.)
- You have recurring infections around or behind your back teeth
- You have a tumor or cyst near your wisdom tooth/teeth
- A wisdom tooth has become involved with the inferior alveolar nerve
You should probably not have your wisdom teeth removed if:
- Your jaw has the space to fit wisdom teeth without crowding
- You are in good health
- The teeth are not impacted
- You have TMJ and your wisdom teeth cause no symptoms