The mouth goes through numerous anatomical changes from when we’re toddlers until about the age of 25. Around the mid-twenties, your jaw usually completes development and a hallmark of this process is the development of wisdom teeth.
These adult teeth are the last set of molars to develop in an adult mouth. To understand what their purpose is, we have to travel back in time to the era of hunter-gatherers. In the following article, we’ll discuss the evolutionary purpose of these adult teeth, the problems they can cause, and how to correct the damage if any.
What are wisdom teeth
A wisdom tooth is an adult molar that finishes developing between the ages of 18 to 25. These molars develop the last in the human mouth and are typically 4 in total.
You get 2 on the lower jaw and 2 on the upper jaw. Even within the same person, wisdom teeth can grow at different rates.
What is the purpose of wisdom teeth?
Before the agricultural revolution, humans survived only on the hunting and gathering lifestyle. This allowed them access to hard and uncooked foods. As a result of the harsh structure of their diet, their jaws generally exerted a lot of force.
Scientists found that due to the pressure that hunter-gatherers had to exert on their jaws; they grew to be longer and better suited for adult teeth. In turn, the adult molars provide more assistance with chewing and breaking down food; helping with digestion as well as accommodating the increase in caloric intake for adults; since older people require more food than children.
But as the shift to agriculture happened; humans began to consume soft and cooked foods that did not work out the jaw as necessary. This in turn does not stimulate the jaw to expand enough to house wisdom teeth. And hence why now; many people struggle with the inconvenience that comes with developing adult molars.
So while these teeth were a crucial development for adult hunter-gatherers thousands of years ago, today they serve no necessary purpose.
Side effects of an impacted wisdom tooth
In a certain number of cases, wisdom teeth can develop normally without causing any complications. But this depends on both genetics and the type of diet you consume. Some people are born with naturally long jaws while others acquire that through the consumption of certain diets.
In other cases; the development of a wisdom tooth can cause so much discomfort. That happens with impacted wisdom teeth; a term that refers to the phenomenon of adult molars getting trapped underneath the gums because there is not enough space to accommodate their growth.
Other times, impacted teeth occur because they are growing at an angle of inclination which causes numerous unpleasant symptoms.
Some of the complications you can expect during the time when a wisdom tooth begins to erupt include:
Adult molars tend to cause pain as they’re erupting, but that is not always necessary. This happens due to the fact that as wisdom teeth emerge when there is no room for them; they begin to push against neighboring teeth. Over time, this kind of force will reposition the teeth closer to your adult molars. You can think of them as braces since they also re-position teeth using pressure.
Anyone who has had braces is familiar with the pain they cause at first.
In the absence of sufficient space, your jaw can’t accommodate your adult molars. As a result, their growth is impaired and this causes crowding between the molars. In turn; this makes it harder to clean your teeth and remove plaque leading to cavities. Recent research shows that adult molars contribute to the development of tooth decay and damage to neighboring teeth.
Cavities in the wisdom tooth are never a serious problem since your dentist can extract them. But cavities affecting neighboring teeth can be a serious concern. Especially if it reaches the nerve.
In this case, your dentist will recommend a root canal treatment to remove the pulp of your teeth while keeping the root. The unfortunate part is that you will lose the crown of your tooth in the process. Therefore, you can consider dental crowns as a long-term replacement.
Not all impacted wisdom teeth will cause infection, but a number of cases develop to this stage. During an infection; you can experience swelling in the area, difficulty opening your mouth, swelling around the gums, and even fever.
When it gets to the stage of infection; you must seek dental care to treat the problem. Your dentist will likely extract the tooth and this should relieve the problem shortly.
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How to treat wisdom teeth?
Treating a wisdom tooth is not always necessary unless it develops into an infection or causes pain and discomfort; seeking treatment is not a must.
If your adult molars begin to cause pain; you should visit your dentist. The treatment process will begin with your dentist running an oral examination. This is to check for cavities or inflammation in the area.
Following this, your dentist will ask for an x-ray image of your jaw. This step is essential since wisdom teeth typically remain under the gums and are hard to evaluate with the naked eye. This image will give your dentist all the information they need on the inclination and development of your wisdom teeth.
If your dentist notices that your adult molars are impacted they will recommend their removal. You can do this in a simple procedure that will prevent complications in the future.
For any further complications like cavities; your dentist will deal with them separately.
How long does wisdom teeth swelling last?
The duration of wisdom teeth swelling can vary from person to person and depend on various factors, such as the complexity of the extraction, the number of teeth removed, and how well you take care of the extraction site.
Generally, wisdom teeth swelling may peak around the third or fourth day after the surgery and then gradually subside over the next several days. In most cases, the swelling should be mostly gone within a week or two after the extraction.
To help reduce swelling and promote healing, it is essential to follow your dentist or oral surgeon’s post-operative instructions carefully. This may include applying ice packs to the affected area, taking prescribed pain medications, and avoiding strenuous physical activity and certain foods.
If you experience severe or prolonged swelling, pain, or other concerning symptoms after wisdom teeth extraction, you should contact your dentist or oral surgeon promptly for further evaluation and treatment.
Can wisdom teeth cause tooth crowding?
Many people assume that wisdom teeth have the ability to change the alignment of your teeth. That is simply not true since wisdom teeth cannot simply exert that much force or pressure to shift all your teeth. They may, however, cause damage to neighboring teeth or crowding between them and the neighboring tooth.
But that is just as far as the damage they can cause goes. So if you suffer from dental crowding; you can consider either orthodontics or cosmetic dentistry.
The field of orthodontics now offers many adult-friendly options for braces such as lingual braces or the Invisalign. Lingual braces are braces that go on the inner side of your teeth so they barely show. And the Invisalign is a clear set of braces that looks almost invisible. Both of these options are effective while also giving adults the choice of going for something more discreet.
On the other hand, you have the option of veneers that not only correct mild crowding but frankly renew your smile permanently.
Does everyone have wisdom teeth?
Contrary to popular belief, not everyone has wisdom teeth. While the average number of wisdom teeth is 4, some people can have as little as one wisdom tooth or none at all. Likewise, you’ll find cases where people are born with wisdom teeth yet they never emerge. So in short, not everyone has wisdom teeth.
Can wisdom teeth grow back?
Once your doctor removes a wisdom tooth, that tooth cannot grow back. What happens in situations where wisdom teeth re-emerge for patients is that they have more than the average number of wisdom teeth.
If your doctor removes 4 of your wisdom teeth, but they re-emerge after some time, it means that you have an extra number of wisdom teeth.
can you get your wisdom teeth removed while pregnant?
The decision to remove it during pregnancy should be carefully considered and discussed with both your obstetrician and your dentist or oral surgeon.
Generally, elective dental procedures, including wisdom teeth removal, are postponed until after pregnancy due to potential risks to the developing fetus. During the first trimester, it is especially important to avoid unnecessary exposure to radiation from X-rays or anesthesia. In the second and third trimesters, the procedure may be possible with precautions.
However, there are situations where wisdom teeth removal during pregnancy may be necessary, such as in cases of severe pain, infection, or other dental emergencies. In these cases, the risks and benefits must be carefully weighed, and the procedure may be done with modifications such as using local anesthesia instead of general anesthesia.