Ask the Dentist: Are wisdom teeth really all that wise?

Dentist Lucy Stock of Gentle Dental Care in Belfast asks whether wisdom teeth are a bonus or a nuisance?

Wisdom teeth can give bother and sometimes they are tricky to fill or extract

ABOUT 100 million years ago our ancestors roamed the Earth with large jaws and plenty of room to accommodate third molars, which we know as wisdom teeth. As they began to walk on two feet, mutations in their genes led to shorter jaws which may have happened to give room for larger brains.

As the years passed, larger brains helped our ancestors begin to figure out how to make fire and tools.This made eating easier and changed their rough and primitive diet to a softer one. Hence the reason that wisdom teeth are literally getting squeezed out as they are no longer a necessity.

Having said that, we don't all need to rush out and remove our wisdom teeth. Wisdom teeth are taken out for a variety of reasons. As wisdom teeth erupt through the gum they can give teething pain. Often this is transient until the tooth has fully broken through; however, some wisdom teeth get stuck against the adjacent molar or jaw bone.

When only a bit of the tooth is poking through, food can easily get trapped, causing pain that travels up into the ear and down under the jaw. It’s only if a person suffers repeated bouts of this pain that a wisdom tooth is considered for removal.

Then careful consideration is given to the position of the wisdom tooth to the underlying nerves. Although incredibly rare, there are situations when one of the main jaw nerves actually passes through the curved roots. This renders removal of the tooth particularly hazardous as the nerve could be snapped, causing numbness.

When a wisdom tooth gets stuck behind the second molar the food trap additionally creates an ideal meal for oral bacteria to feast on. This means that an unusually deep cavity forms in the second molar. These can be very demanding cavities to fix and unfortunately the decay can be such that not only the wisdom tooth needs to be removed but also the adjacent molar.

The other reason that wisdom teeth are removed is because they get in the way of how your teeth bite together. Wisdom teeth in the wrong place can cause your front teeth to wear away and joint problems.

Overall if the wisdom teeth are not giving you bother, they are in a good position and the neighbouring teeth are healthy then your luck is in – leave them alone.

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