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Why Are Wisdom Teeth a Pain?

Dentists often wait-and-see before removing these molars.

Despite the name, wisdom teeth have nothing to do with your smarts. In fact, these molars at the very back of your jaw are most likely remnants of a time when humans spoke in grunts and called a stone cave home sweet home.

According to pediatric dentist Jason Golnick, DDS, there’s a lot of misinformation out there about wisdom teeth. After all, they’re a part of your child’s mouth that rarely receives much attention — unless, that is, they have to be removed! Here are some wisdom teeth basics.

Behind the Name

No one is certain why the third molars received the moniker “wisdom teeth.” The prevailing theory is that since these teeth are the last to appear, they usually come in when children are older and wiser.

Although most wisdom teeth come in or “erupt” much earlier, they can appear as late as a person’s 20s. Not everyone has wisdom teeth, and some people only have one or two and, in rare instances, some have more than four.

Troublesome Teeth

If your child does have wisdom teeth, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll have to come out. Some wisdom teeth never make an appearance above the gum line, while others sit in the back of the mouth without causing any problems.

But for a majority of children, the presence of these third molars can lead to some serious dental problems if they’re not removed. The wisdom teeth may crowd out other teeth. They also can come in at an angle below the gum line and push against other adult teeth. Or they may erupt only partially, leaving a portion of the tooth above the surface, where it could encourage the growth of bacteria. In any of these cases, your child’s dentist will likely recommend that the wisdom teeth be removed.

Timing Removal

Dentists increasingly are following a wait-and-see approach to taking out wisdom teeth rather than pulling them out at their first appearance — unless X-rays or pain indicate that the teeth should be removed.

While your child’s dentist may be able to remove fully erupted wisdom teeth, more complex circumstances usually require a trip to an oral surgeon.

If your child is experiencing any pain with his molars, make sure to let your dentist know right away. And don’t worry if your child does need to have his wisdom teeth removed — he won’t be any less wise because of it!

Kristen J. Gough is a writer for Metro Parent.

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