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What is Wisdom Teeth and How Do I Know if I Have Wisdom Teeth?

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What is Wisdom Teeth?

Wisdom teeth are the third and final set of molars that most people get in their late teens or early twenties. Sometimes these teeth can be a valuable asset to the mouth when healthy and properly aligned, but more often, they are misaligned and require removal.

When wisdom teeth are misaligned, they may position themselves horizontally, be angled toward or away from the second molars, or be angled inward or outward. Poor alignment of wisdom teeth can crowd or damage adjacent teeth, the jawbone, or nerves.

Wisdom teeth also can be impacted -- they are enclosed within the soft tissue and/or the jawbone or only partially break through or erupt through the gum. Partial eruption of the wisdom teeth allows an opening for bacteria to enter around the tooth and cause an infection, which results in pain, swelling, jaw stiffness, and general illness. Partially erupted teeth are also more prone to tooth decay and gum disease, because their hard-to-reach location and awkward positioning makes brushing and flossing difficult.

How Do I Know if I Have Wisdom Teeth?

Ask your dentist about the positioning of your wisdom teeth. They may take an X-ray periodically to evaluate for the presence and alignment of your wisdom teeth. Your dentist may also decide to send you to an oral surgeon for further evaluation.

Your dentist or oral surgeon may recommend that your wisdom teeth be extracted even before problems develop. This is done to avoid a more painful or more complicated extraction that might have to be done a few years later. Removal is easier in young people, when the wisdom teeth roots are not yet fully developed and the bone is less dense. In older people, recovery and healing time tend to be longer.


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