Wisdom teeth, or third molars, got their name because when they grow in, your IQ increases by 50 points… per tooth. If that sounds like a myth—or like a bad dad joke—that’s because it is. i.e., it is both a myth and a really bad dad joke. We’re sorry. But it does illustrate our point.
For teeth that are supposedly “wise,” there are more than a few particularly “unwise” myths floating around out there about these late-comer molars. And while most of the myths about wisdom teeth are harmless—and actually kind of funny—a few of the mistruths out there can be detrimental to your dental and oral health.
As dentists, part of our job is to make sure that our patients have the best information so we feel obligated to dispel some of the mystifying myths about wisdom teeth.
Myth #1: Everyone Has Wisdom Teeth
This might come as a shock to anyone who isn’t a dentist or oral surgeon but not everyone actually has wisdom teeth to begin with. Anywhere between 25% and 35% of the population has between one and three wisdom teeth. And as much as 50% have no wisdom teeth at all! Now, that’s not to say that those without their third molars are any less “wise” than their wisdom-toothed peers.
It’s possible that, for many people, their wisdom teeth simply never erupt—i.e., breach the surface of their gums. You won’t know if you have wisdom teeth until your late teens to mid-twenties when your dentist takes an X-ray or when they begin to erupt. Having or not having wisdom teeth is nothing to worry about. As long as your smile is healthy—and you’re keeping up with your dental care routine—you can carry on.
Myth #2: Wisdom Teeth Have to Be Extracted
Few oral surgeries send shivers down patients’ spines quite like the term “wisdom tooth extraction”. Perhaps it’s the combination of the word “tooth” and “extraction”. Maybe if we started calling this routine procedure “wisdom tooth rehoming-to-outside-of-your-mouth” patients might be less hesitant. Or we could simply point out that, oftentimes, having wisdom teeth removed is entirely optional.
The only time that your dentist will insist on a wisdom tooth extraction is in the event of an impacted wisdom tooth. Your dentist may also recommend a wisdom tooth extraction if they’re concerned about crowding or if a patient complains about inflamed or sore gums from teething, pain in the jaw or face or if the patient has developed other orofacial conditions since the eruption of the wisdom teeth.
Generally speaking, however, having your third molars removed is optional. Out of an approximate 10 million wisdom teeth removals in any given year, only about 40% are medically necessary.
Myth #3: Wisdom Teeth Always Erupt Between 18 and 25 Years of Age
While it’s definitely true that most people get their wisdom teeth sometime between the ages of 18 and 25, it’s not a hard rule. It’s less common, but some people don’t experience the added “wisdom” afforded by their third molars until they are in their 30s—or even 40s!
There aren’t any immediate dental or oral health concerns for those experiencing late eruption however it might be something worth talking to your dentist about. Oftentimes, wisdom teeth that come in late won’t fully erupt on their own and can cause lasting pain from teething. Partially erupted teeth can also irritate the gums and prolong the healing process.
Fortunately, it’s never too late to have a wisdom tooth removed. And no matter how old you are, you’ll have a dentist-approved excuse for eating tubs of ice cream.
Myth #4: I Can Drink and Smoke After a Wisdom Tooth Extraction
Having a wisdom tooth removed is a straightforward procedure that your dentist or oral surgeon could—but wouldn’t—perform with their eyes closed. That’s not to say, however, that it isn’t still a serious form of surgery. As with any other type of surgery, your mouth and gums will need time to heal.
As your mouth and gums heal, you’ll want to avoid any food or beverages that could either prolong the healing process or, worse yet, cause infection. Smoking and tobacco products, for example, increase your chances of developing dry socket. Similarly, you’ll want to avoid hard foods and alcoholic beverages in the days after your surgery or for at least 24 hours after your operation as they can disrupt the healing process.
Myth #5: Wisdom Tooth Eruption is Always Painful
Some things in life are going to hurt no matter what you do… such as paying your taxes. But getting your wisdom teeth removed shouldn’t be on that list of painful experiences.
While it’s fair to expect some degree of mild discomfort during tooth eruption, it should never be painful or otherwise interfere with your regular routine. If you’re experiencing pain when your wisdom teeth are erupting, it could be an indication that they are impacted, crowded, or pushing on sensitive nerves. You’ll want to contact your dentist and get their advice.
No Myths, Just Smiles
At Portrait Dental, we’re focused on the facts that give our patients a picture-perfect smile. Click here to learn more about our services and book your next appointment with us.