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Feb 10

Wisdom Teeth

What are wisdom teeth?

Wisdom teeth are a third set of molars. They are usually the last teeth to develop and grow into the mouth (erupt). They are also normally situated the furthest back in position to the rest of the teeth. One can expect a wisdom tooth to grow into the mouth around age 18-20 years. Sometimes wisdom teeth do not develop and it is not unusual to be missing one or more wisdom tooth.

Do they always grow into the mouth?

No. Wisdom teeth sometimes grow in the wrong direction or become stuck (impacted). They may either come through partially, or not grow into the mouth at all. It is a good idea to have an x-ray taken around age 18 years if a wisdom tooth does not appear to grow into the mouth. The crown of an impacted wisdom tooth is sometimes in contact with the crown/root of the second molar. An x-ray will show if there is any associated pathology or damage. Usually there is no issue and the recommendation is to retake the x-ray every three years.

Wisdom teeth may be associated with a condition known as Pericoronits- pain, swelling, and redness of the gum, due to food and bacteria collecting under the flap of gum covering an erupting wisdom tooth. Other conditions include:

  1. A cyst (fluid filled sac) around the crown of the wisdom tooth.
  2. Damage to root or crown of the second molar (resorption).
  3. A tumour (extremely rare).
  4. A deep gum pocket (Periodontal pocket).

Do wisdom teeth cause crowding?

Patients often ask if wisdom teeth lead to crowding of the other teeth. There is a perception that they push the rest of the teeth forwards, and cause them to bunch up. However, this perception is incorrect. Studies have shown that wisdom teeth do not significantly lead to crowding of the other teeth. Crowding of the teeth is natural process that continues over time, and it has many other contributing factors.

When to remove a wisdom tooth?

A wisdom tooth is usually removed if it is associated with repeated and recent episodes of pain or pathology, and/or is associated with damage to nearby teeth or structures. This is normally carried out by an experienced surgeon, under a general anaesthetic.