Once you’ve moved into your late teen years, you may think the teeth you see are the only teeth you’ll ever get. But there’s a strong possibility that isn’t true.
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Your wisdom teeth can still break through, or erupt, even in early adulthood.
“Knowing more about your wisdom teeth and how they behave can make it easier to deal with problems that arise and the need for extraction,” says dentist Nathan Janowicz, DMD.
Here, he answers common questions his patients ask about wisdom teeth.
“No, not everyone is born with a full complement of teeth. In fact, the wisdom teeth are the most common congenitally missing teeth,” Dr. Janowicz says.
Pain in the upper or lower jaw can often be the first sign that your wisdom teeth are causing problems. You may feel a sensation of pressure in the back of your mouth. Also, the gum tissue around the erupting wisdom tooth often becomes sensitive, swollen and inflamed.
However, you may also feel no pain at all. But the absence of pain doesn’t necessarily mean there isn’t a problem. “A lot of folks don’t have any symptoms,” says Dr. Janowicz. “That’s why you should have your wisdom teeth examined by a dentist to determine if extraction is appropriate.”
If your wisdom teeth are impacted, thereby preventing adequate oral hygiene, it’s often best to have them removed.
Teeth that erupt in an upright and functional position often don’t need to be removed, Dr. Janowicz says, as long as they cause no pain and aren’t associated with decay or gum disease.
However, even wisdom teeth that come in correctly can develop problems over time because they are so far back in the mouth and difficult to clean. So if you keep your wisdom teeth, be sure to brush and floss them well, and see your dentist regularly.
It’s common for people to have impacted wisdom teeth. These teeth are buried, either partially or completely, in the soft tissue or jaw bone, and are more susceptible to disease and other problems.
The problem is you can’t clean impacted wisdom teeth properly, so they can start to decay, and you can develop gum disease. “Although less common, cysts or tumors can also develop around impacted teeth,” says Dr. Janowicz.
Dentists generally evaluate impacted teeth on a case-by-case basis to determine whether to remove them, he adds. If a tooth is fully impacted in bone and X-rays show that eruption is unlikely, your dentist will often recommend removal to prevent future problems.
Mild to moderate pain is normal and expected after an extraction, but a few other complications are also possible. Here’s a rundown of what you can expect and how your doctor would likely treat each possibility:
Ultimately, you have little control over your wisdom teeth. “Other than keeping up with oral hygiene and going to the dentist on a regular basis, there’s not much people can or need to do,” says Dr. Janowicz.