Wisdom teeth are a funny part of our dental anatomy. For some, these evolutionary throwbacks come in with absolutely no complications, while in other, less fortunate mouths, these “3rd molars” can grow in sideways, or even fail to grow in at all. When this “failure to launch” happens, wisdom teeth can go from being peculiar to dangerous in a hurry.
About Wisdom Teeth
Before we get into the hazards of rebellious wisdom teeth, it’s best that we explain these potentially-malicious molars.
In most people, wisdom teeth are the last set of teeth to break through the gums, and for those who actually have all their teeth (weird fact: some people don’t have wisdom teeth at all!), there are two teeth on top and two teeth on bottom. Though wisdom teeth grow in at different times for different patients, they generally break the surface of the gums during a person’s late teens and, by the mid- to late-twenties, are either fully erupted or “impacted.” Impacted is the term dental professionals give to wisdom teeth (or any teeth, for that matter) that have, for one reason or another, failed to follow protocol and are stuck beneath the surface.
Signs Of Trouble
Because impacted wisdom teeth can lead to infections, cysts, and even deadly tumors, it’s important for teens and twenty-somethings to be able to identify the symptoms of impacted teeth. For many, an impacted tooth will begin with a pain in the back of the mouth (behind the molars), and will gradually increase as the tooth becomes more and more misaligned. Other impacted wisdom teeth symptoms include:
- redness at the site where the wisdom tooth should erupt
- tenderness and/or swelling
- bad breath that isn’t diminished by brushing or mouthwash
- bad taste in mouth when chewing food
While these symptoms may signal that a wisdom tooth has become impacted, they may also be side-effects of normal tooth growth; the only way to know for sure if a tooth is impacted is to schedule an X-ray with your family dentist or oral surgeon. Regular checkups in a person’s early teens will also alert healthcare professionals to any abnormalities in wisdom tooth growth, and your dentist may recommend a wisdom tooth extraction to prevent complications later in life.
Today, a wisdom tooth extraction is a relatively simple and almost painless procedure. By one estimate, 85% of people will need to have their wisdom teeth removed during their lifetimes, if only to be “better safe than sorry.”