If your teenager is nearing age 18, there’s a whole slew of things you’re considering. College applications, high school graduation, and a potential move far from home all taking serious thought. Just make sure you’re not overlooking another turning point.
This age is typically when wisdom teeth begin to erupt – and when they start causing problems for those with impacted teeth.
You don’t have to just sit back and let this happen. We’ve put together some information on when it’s time to consider wisdom tooth extraction for your child, and why it might be necessary. Worried about your own wisdom teeth, if they were never extracted? We can help with that too. Just get in touch to learn more and schedule a consultation.
Why Humans Have Wisdom Teeth
The human body has changed in countless ways over the course of our evolutionary journey. Some of these changes are big, and some fairly subtle. Our bodies work hard to keep up with the changing components of our daily life. But our wisdom teeth are a sort of leftover. Known as vestigial organs, these structures no longer have a purpose, but we haven’t yet evolved away from them entirely.
Humans once used wisdom teeth for chewing and biting. This way back when our ancestors ate a much rougher diet, containing foods like leaves, nuts, roots and raw meat. Fortunately, we’re no longer trapped in this type of eating that leads to aching jaws and the need for extra teeth. We have extremely helpful eating tools like silverware, gas ranges, and countless other aids.
When Do Wisdom Teeth Typically Erupt?
Third molars are colloquially called “wisdom teeth” because they don’t show up until the ages of 17-21, when we’re said to become wise (of course, some of us get a little more wisdom than others)! Wisdom teeth erupt once the rest of the body has usually stopped developing. Because other teeth erupt earlier, wisdom teeth can come as a surprise. This is why we usually recommend that teenagers get x-rays and discuss potential for extraction before they go away to college. Extraction might not be necessary right away, but it’s good to get a treatment plan on the schedule.
How Many Wisdom Teeth Do We Usually Have?
Most people have four wisdom teeth. But it’s possible to have anywhere from 1-4. Some patients even have extra wisdom teeth, with more than 4 third molars. We still don’t know why the number of teeth per person varies, but if your child has fewer than four, that will make surgery all the simpler!
Common Wisdom Tooth Problems
Another evolutionary change related to wisdom teeth is the smaller size of the jaw. The human jaw has shrunk over hundreds of years, yet still retains third molars. It’s dangerously easy for those teeth to become impacted or be blocked by adjacent teeth or gum tissue. There’s not always enough room for them to fully erupt. But erupt they do – sometimes setting off a chain reaction of dental problems.
Wisdom teeth may be partially impacted or fully impacted. This means that the tooth is showing through the gums, or completely hidden beneath the gums, respectively. Teeth may erupt angled toward the second molars, toward the back of the mouth, at a right angle to other teeth, or straight up and down but trapped within the jawbone. Impacted teeth can lead to a variety of issues, including:
Damage to surrounding teeth
Higher risk of tooth decay
Higher risk of gum disease
How to Spot an Impacted Tooth
Problematic wisdom teeth can be tough to notice, because they’re located at the back of the mouth and are difficult to see or carefully examine on your own. If you’ve been noticing tooth path or jaw pain, use a flashlight to illuminate the back of your mouth and check for the symptoms listed below.
Molars are already prone to dental problems since they are more difficult to access during oral hygiene. Their surfaces also have cracks and fissures that trap plaque and heighten the risk of decay. Add in partial impaction, and wisdom teeth become even more vulnerable to problems. Be on the lookout for these symptoms, especially at the back of the mouth:
Gums that bleed easily
Persistent bad breath
A lingering bad taste in the mouth
Difficulty performing daily tasks like chewing or opening your mouth
If your child does have impacted wisdom teeth, extraction will solve the problem. Schedule a consultation so that we can take x-rays, examine their mouth, and decide on the next step. The sooner the offending teeth are removed, the sooner your teen can get back to life as usual. Reach out today.