About Wisdom teeth

Not so long ago, a patient came into our office inquiring about the pain he was having with his wisdom tooth. He had recently eaten some popcorn and a small piece was stuck under the gum around his erupting wisdom tooth Needless to say, they were going to have to be removed.

However, this patient asked some questions that prompted me to do some research on why we have wisdom teeth in the first place. Where do they come from and why do we have them? There have been claims that our wisdom teeth evolved as a result of the diet of early humans.1 This diet, consisting of tough and chewy foods such as nuts, leaves, and raw meat made it advantageous to have an extra set of molars. A third set of molars could have been beneficial, especially when other teeth in the mouth were being lost, torn or worn down. The diet of early humans resulted in the shifting of teeth, which supposedly allowed a jaw large enough to accommodate all 32 teeth.2

It’s evident, now, that our jaws are much smaller. This is due to a number of different factors, including mutations in genes, cultural shifts, changes in diet and hygiene. For some lucky individuals, wisdom teeth may grow in the proper position and cause no problems. Most people, however, find themselves in the dental chair having these teeth removed because they are impacted causing minor to intolerable pain. There are some fortunate patients that never actually grow in their wisdom teeth. In very rare cases, patients may develop several sets of wisdom teeth. Here is a recent X-ray showing a patient with an extra pair of lower wisdom teeth and a very unusual upper wisdom tooth. Extra impacted wisdom teeth

Many people question, if not fear, the extraction of their wisdom teeth. if they are impacted removing them is more than just a good idea, such as these:Impacted wisdom tooth with decay. Because of their hard to reach location, they can be difficult to keep clean and may actually cause cavities. Even if they aren’t causing you pain at the moment, it is important to get them checked by the dentist. The extraction process does not have to be painful at all. and oral or I.V. sedation is always available. Anticipate some minor bleeding and swelling but you will be back to normal in about a week.

Our wisdom teeth are the last few teeth to grow in and there is increasing research on ways dentists may be able to prevent wisdom teeth from developing at all. Do you think our wisdom teeth will eventually disappear?


- Katherine Ynsinare

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Dr. Marc Gottlieb is one of Long Island's leading dental practicioners, specializing in helping those who feel anxiety or apprehension when visiting the dentist. He can be reached at marc@anxietyfreedental.com