Three Strikes and You’re Out! What are Third Molars?

  Third molars are just that: the third molar to erupt on the length of your jaw. Because these third molars appear later in life (usually between 17 and 21 years old), they have the popular name of wisdom teeth. 

Our neanderthal ancestors had longer jaws with more teeth–particularly molars–to grind up tough food. As the human jaw evolved to be shorter and our food became softer, human beings lost the biological need for the third molar.

While some modern people have a jaw structure with ample room for their third molars, a large percentage of the population do not. When there isn’t enough room for third molars, they will become impacted, meaning they are unable to erupt properly into function in the mouth. Third molars can be either partially impacted (erupting only partially into the mouth) or completely impacted (totally covered by bone and not likely to erupt properly, if at all).

Impacted teeth can cause a number of complications for you and your teeth including pain, gum disease, bacterial infection, damage to adjacent teeth, and cyst or tumor formation. In order to avoid these negative side effects, it is important that you and your dentists closely monitor your wisdom teeth as they develop and erupt. 

X-ray images allow your dentist to get an idea of how your third molars are coming in and if/when they will need to be extracted. Your dentist will refer you to an oral surgeon like Dr. Doss, Dr. Mitchell, Dr. Traub, or Dr. Crawford at SMOMS to get a full evaluation on your third molar extraction. 

It’s completely normal to feel some anxiety at the prospect of having teeth extracted, but you shouldn’t put off the procedure. It is better to have third molars removed as soon as possible; earlier extraction allows for an easier surgery with fewer complications. For more information about third molars, check out the wisdom teeth procedure page on the SMOMS site! 

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