Wisdom teeth (also known as third molars) usually start forming as a child enters their pre-teen years. On a dental X-ray they will appear as round, white fuzzy areas in the back of the mouth behind the other teeth.
While most people will develop four wisdom teeth (two upper/two lower), some people will develop only two wisdom teeth and there have been cases where patients have developed six wisdom teeth.
Contrary to popular belief, wisdom teeth do not make you wiser. Left in place, they can pose many threats to the neighboring teeth, hence the reason most dental practitioners recommend them for extraction.
Reasons for Extraction
Some patients just don't have room for the third molars to erupt (come in) and as these bigger teeth remain in place they will push against the existing teeth, moving them out of their ideal chewing position and increasing the forces on the TMJ (temporomandibular joint).
One of the most common reasons to remove wisdom teeth is if a patient is undergoing orthodontic treatment. The purpose of orthodontic treatment is to align the teeth and jaws in their ideal position for function. If wisdom teeth are not extracted they can affect the success of orthodontic treatment. They can affect the actual treatment itself or can cause teeth to shift after the orthodontic brackets (braces) are removed.
Many patients experience headaches and jaw aches associated with the presence of wisdom teeth, usually the result of the teeth being impacted - not enough room in the mouth for the teeth to erupt through the gum.
Potential Risks and Complications
The difficulty of the extraction process varies from patient to patient. Generally, most oral surgeons and other qualified dental practitioners will remove the wisdom teeth under IV sedation in a standard dental office. If the extractions are done in conjunction with other orthodontic treatments, they may be done in hospital under a general anaesthetic. Obviously, there is always the potential for the patient to react adversely to the medications administered both peri- and post-operatively.