In his essay “The History of Animals,” Aristotle became the first writer (that we know of) to write about wisdom teeth. Here is what the Greek philosopher said: “The last teeth to come in man are molars called ‘wisdom-teeth,’ which come at the age of twenty years, in the case of both sexes. Cases have been known in women upwards of eighty years old where at the very close of life the wisdom-teeth have come up, causing great pain in their coming; and cases have been known of the like phenomenon in men too. This happens, when it does happen, in the case of people where the wisdom-teeth have not come up in early years.”
Although technically known as “third molars,” the common name is “wisdom teeth” because they appear much later than the other teeth, usually between the ages of 17 and 25, when people are presumably “wiser” than they are as children, when the other teeth appear. A wisdom tooth or third molar is one of the three molars in each quadrant of the mouth. Thus, most adults have four wisdom teeth, but it is possible to have fewer or more, in which case the additional ones are called “supernumerary” teeth. If your wisdom teeth are healthy and aligned, you are lucky. For many of us, our wisdom teeth are misaligned and will have to be, or have been, extracted.
Wisdom teeth are vestigial molars that once helped our human ancestors to grind plant tissue. Scientists believe that the skulls of our ancestors had larger jaws with more teeth. The additional teeth helped humans to chew thoroughly the plant foliage that would otherwise be difficult to digest. As human diets changed, jaws adapted and became smaller, but the third molar or “wisdom” tooth remained.
You probably already know that very few things can be as painful or as troublesome as impacted wisdom teeth. It’s imperative for everyone to identify any issue with wisdom teeth as early as possible. If you have regular dental checkups, your family dentist should be able to identify impacted wisdom teeth – by using a panelipse x-ray – before those impacted wisdom teeth cause you excruciating pain.
In Southern California, a San Diego family dentist can provide your family with those regular checkups, and if impacted wisdom teeth begin to cause pain, your dentist can help. Anyone suffering with impacted wisdom teeth will start to experience a few symptoms, and those symptoms will get worse as the condition develops until you obtain treatment. Listed here, the most common symptoms of impacted wisdom teeth:
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF IMPACTED WISDOM TEETH?
-Headaches: In many patients, impacted wisdom teeth can cause headaches at the temporomandibular joint, where the jaw connects to the skull, and this pain may expand to the rest of the face and head.
-Throbbing Pain: Impacted wisdom teeth almost always cause a great deal of pain, and that pain tends to increase over time until a patient obtains treatment. A person suffering with impacted wisdom teeth may notice pain radiating from the back of the mouth, especially around the wisdom teeth and adjacent teeth. This pain will intensify as the surrounding teeth begin to become affected.
-Tender, swollen, or bleeding gums: Impacted wisdom teeth can be the source of serious trouble with gums. They may feel swollen and tender, and they may bleed when there’s any pressure on them. That can make it hard to brush and floss. If your gums become swollen and tender, the problem could be impacted wisdom teeth or it could be some other type of gum disease, so you’ll want to see a San Diego family dentist right away.
-Swelling of the Jaw: Swelling of both the gums and jaw are signs of impacted wisdom teeth. For most patients, the swelling and pain can be barely detectable at first, but the condition can deteriorate quickly so that even opening your mouth becomes painful.
-Swollen neck and shoulder glands: If your neck and shoulders become swollen at the same time as your gums and your jaw, it is an almost certain indication of impacted wisdom teeth. Arrange to see your dentist at once if you develop swollen neck and shoulder glands.
WHAT COMPLICATIONS ARE CAUSED BY IMPACTED WISDOM TEETH?
If untreated, impacted wisdom teeth will lead to a number of complications that will only get worse. Impacted wisdom teeth are themselves a painful and serious problem, but the genuine threat to a patient’s health comes from the complications that impacted wisdom teeth can generate.
If your own wisdom teeth become impacted, your own family dentist can tell you what to expect in your own case, but the most common complications of impacted wisdom teeth are:
-Gum disease: Impacted wisdom teeth are invitations to the bacteria that cause decay and infection. The back part of the gums is a naturally difficult spot to clean, so food particles and bacteria are easily trapped there, leading to further disease and decay.
-Damage to adjacent teeth: Impacted wisdom teeth sometimes push out against the surrounding teeth, nudging them out of place and sometimes leading to infections.
-Cysts: Wisdom teeth grow from a sac that is actually inside the jaw. When wisdom teeth are impacted, these sacs can fill with fluid, generating painful cysts that can damage the surrounding teeth and nerves.
WHAT HAPPENS DURING EXTRACTION?
If you are experiencing any of the warning signs listed above, contact your dentist and do not wait. The ease or difficulty of extracting wisdom teeth depends on their position and development. During a pre-extraction examination, your dentist will be able to give you a more specific idea of what you can expect in your own situation. A wisdom tooth that has erupted through the gum can be removed with no more difficulty than any other tooth.
However, an impacted wisdom tooth that remains under the gums and inside the jawbone will necessitate an incision into the gums followed by the removal of the section of bone that covers the wisdom tooth. When this is the situation, an oral surgeon will extract the impacted tooth in small sections rather than one piece. This approach reduces the size of the bone section that must be removed.
Is extraction the only remedy for an impacted wisdom tooth? Not according to San Diego family dentist Dr. Jonathan Fung, who says, “Contrary to popular belief, impacted wisdom teeth don’t always need to be extracted. In general, partially impacted teeth (teeth that are partly in the gums and/or partly in the jaw bone) pose a potential risk of infection if bacteria or foreign debris gets into the space surrounding the partially impacted tooth. In those cases, it’s often better to extract the tooth to prevent the possibility of infection and pain.”
Dr. Fung explains, “Fully impacted wisdom teeth that are completely enclosed by the bone in the jaw are generally not an infection risk, but may need to be evaluated over time to determine whether they will erupt into function or whether they will erupt in a nonfunctional way. Additionally, fully impacted wisdom teeth need to be monitored in case they are associated with a cyst called a “dentigerous cyst” which should be removed if noted. Overall, fully impacted wisdom teeth are not always necessary to remove but they should be monitored regularly.”
Dr. Fung adds, “How do you know if there are complications arising from erupting wisdom teeth? In general, upper wisdom teeth do not present with pain during eruption. By far the most common complications arise from the lower wisdom teeth. When complications arise it usually begins as pain radiating from the back of the last molars in the lower jaw and they can occur on one or both sides at the same time.”
Dr. Fung also cautions, “There may be some swelling in the area with red, inflamed tissue and there may appear to be a piece of the gums growing over the top of the back tooth. If this occurs, a patient should seek dental care immediately as the condition is nearly always diagnosed as pericoronitis which can turn into a localized infection.”