Wisdom teeth (otherwise known as third molars) are the last teeth to develop. In patients with adequate space in the jaws, these teeth may erupt into full function.
In most people, however, there is not enough room for the wisdom teeth to completely erupt. and so they become trapped in the jawbone and gums.
When teeth are not completely erupted, they are called impacted. The face and jaws of people today are smaller than those of early humans, who needed large jaws and more teeth for their tougher diet.
When third molars do not erupt completely, there are many problems that can develop.
Crowding or shifting of the adjacent teeth can occur.
Food and bacteria can get trapped because of difficulty with hygiene around the gum tissue.
Gum problems and decay of the wisdom teeth and adjacent teeth can occur because of difficulty cleaning in the area. Here, an infection known as pericoronitis has developed around an impacted wisdom tooth.
Cysts and tumors can develop from the sac that forms the tooth.
In 20 this year old patient, a cyst has developed from the sac which forms the wisdom tooth. It has pushed the wisdom tooth upward in the jaw, and caused displacement of the adjacent teeth, as well as thinning of the jawbone.
Impacted wisdom teeth generally become a problem in the late teens and early twenties. The first sign of trouble may be the pain and swelling of an infection. This may cause a sore throat, fever, ear pain, and a bad taste in the mouth.
This is occasionally misdiagnosed as tonsillitis or an ear infection, and may tend to recur periodically.
Wisdom teeth are best removed early, and before the first sign of problems. In the late teens (and sometimes early twenties), the wisdom teeth have not fully developed, so they are not anchored as tightly into the bone.
Young patients also have relatively elastic bone, which also facilitates removal and healing. Over the age of 30-35, there is an increased risk of delayed healing, infection, and other problems.
With the instruments and techniques used today, removal of wisdom teeth is a very routine procedure, with few complications and a smooth recovery period for most patients.
For more detailed information about wisdom teeth from the AAOMS, CLICK HERE.