What You Need to Know about Wisdom Teeth


Most people have four wisdom teeth, although it’s not uncommon for patients to have fewer or even more (“supernumerary teeth”), and sometimes none at all (“hypodontia”). These teeth are known for being problematic because they tend to move other teeth during development by coming in crooked or possibly becoming “impacted.”

Adequate Spacing Between Wisdom Teeth is Key

While some adults never have to remove their wisdom teeth, one common trait seems to be necessary: the mouth must have sufficient space to allow for successful “eruption,” or the tooth’s ability to surface by penetrating through the gum line. In other words, a mouth must contain enough room for wisdom teeth to thrive and they must be properly aligned for biting. Of course, not all wisdom teeth erupt and even if they do appear, there is no guarantee that they will surface healthy as this depends on the condition of the surrounding gums.

Why don’t some people have enough room for wisdom teeth? Often times there is an imbalance between tooth and jaw size, causing insufficient space in the mouth to contain these extra molars.

Impacted Wisdom Teeth

Impaction is a phenomenon whereby a tooth becomes so crammed within its socket that normal eruption is made difficult or impossible. When a wisdom tooth becomes impacted, it usually means that it’s encroaching or pressing against other parts of the mouth such as adjacent teeth, gum tissue, nerves, or blood vessels. Dentists describe the angular position of an impacted wisdom tooth as:

  • Disto-angular—A tooth that develops in a backward direction.
  • Miso-angular—A tooth that develops in a forward direction.

Effects of Impacted Wisdom Teeth

Periodontal, or gum disease, issues are the biggest concern when a wisdom tooth becomes impacted, causing dentists to consider their removal. Wisdom teeth affect the surrounding tissues of adjacent, secondary molars by dislocating the fastening mechanism that secures the tooth to the bone, leading them to fail by exposing them to bacteria and plaque. Impaction can also wear away adjacent roots, a problem known as “root resorption.”

Because impacted wisdom teeth don’t always cause pain, it’s highly recommended that patients receive regular dental checkups during the ages of 17 and 25, the most common age range for third molar development. A person could have problems without even realizing it, and if left untreated, there is a risk of infection or loss of jawbone.

Other times an impacted wisdom tooth will become inflamed and can cause moderate to severe pain. This usually occurs during partial tooth eruption and it’s often chronic. Be sure to consult a dental profession immediately if you experience pain.

Click here to read full PDF from Dear Doctor Magazine.