Wisdom teeth are the last four teeth at each end of your jaw. They’re all molars, and they were nicknamed ‘wisdom teeth’ because they began to erupt in a person’s late teens, three or four years after the rest of their teeth have settled.
Some people believe wisdom teeth are vestigial and serve no real function, because they never seem to fit in the jaw and end up being removed Dr. Steven Lin, famed author and dentist, disagrees. He says that while yes, or jaws are too small for wisdom teeth, it’s not a product of evolution. It’s more a result of poor nutrition.
He says the jaw is a skeletal muscle, and just like any other muscle, exercising it will help it grow. The correct way to exercise your jaw is to eat foods with lots of bite. These include raw carrots, meat on bone, and collagenous substances. He also mentions that smaller jaws are a result of deficiencies in Vitamins A, D, and K2. If we all restored these nutrients to our diets, our jaws would gradually get adequately large for wisdom teeth.
Of course this is a process that could take several decades, and in the meantime, millions of wisdom teeth are extracted every year. For many people, their first ever visit to the dentist is prompted by impacted wisdom teeth. Sometimes, only one or two of your wisdom teeth need to come out, but in some cases, you have to get rid of all four.
Extracting wisdom teeth is thought to be a gruelling procedure. Depending on how badly your wisdom tooth is positioned, your dentist may need to split open your gum and detach your tooth from the bone, sometimes chipping away and removing part of the bone itself … which is every bit as terrible as it sounds.
If you have a good dentist, you will barely feel the procedure because you will be adequately anaesthetised. You won’t be completely numb. As dentists like to say, “You will feel some pressure, which isn’t actually pain.” Plus, your dentist often forgets to mention that once the anaesthetic wears off, even if you didn’t feel anything during the procedure, you’ll be in agony for days or weeks after the extraction.
For many patients, it’s the psychological ‘pain’ that is the problem. The thought of flesh pulling apart and bones grinding is scary even if you can’t actually feel it. Fortunately, there are now far more humane methods of wisdom tooth extraction.
You could have your teeth taken out using sleep dentistry. You dentist will give you a special numbing sedative that keeps you consciously but pain-free. It has a faster recovery time that other anaesthetics, and it even comes with a mildly pleasant amnesiac effect, so you’ll rarely remember the actual procedure.
Another option is laser dentistry. Lasers are used to painlessly push away the fleshy tissues of your gum, revealing your wisdom tooth and making it easier and less arduous to extract. It reduces the pain and swelling of your recovery period, and everyone knows lasers are cool. So … how do you know that your wisdom tooth wants to visit the dentist?
Well, because wisdom tooth extraction is such a common procedure, patients begin to consider it the second those last four molars start to peek out their jaws. Fortunately, you don’t have to take them out unless they’re causing problems. The early signs of wisdom teeth are not constant, because your tooth erupts gradually.
You may experience mild pain for a few days, but then your jaw may go quiet for months before it starts up again. As the teeth erupt, they may push against your other teeth, causing crowding and pain, or against your cheek, causing a mouth ulcer.
Sometimes, your gum forms loose flap of flesh at the back of your jaw. You can peel the flap back using your tongue, and if you look in the mirror at just the right angle, you can see the beginnings of a tooth below.
The flap in itself isn’t an issue. The issue is when you start to develop problematic symptoms. Bits of food get stuck beneath the flap, causing rot and infection, which means the teeth have to come out. It will start with some pain, which is never a good sign, though by the time you feel pain, things are probably bad.
You may notice some swelling around the tooth, which may be visible on the outer part of your cheek and jaw. You’ll feel sore and may develop headaches, especially when chewing. It’s worse if you have a habit of grinding your teeth.
When these symptoms appear, start to check your teeth regularly. Look out for traces of red in your saliva, or on the areas near the back of your jaw. This bleeding should be unrelated to brushing or flossing. You can also try to see how the tooth is lying, to tell you how badly it’s positioned. This will give you some idea of how soon it might needs to come out.
Further down the line, there might be pus in your mouth, and you will experience fever, pain swallowing, and may even have a hard time opening your mouth because the movement hurts your jaw. Your breath might smell, even if you regularly brush or use antibacterial mouthwash. At this stage, it’s best to see a dentist.