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A healthy mouth starts with your teeth and gums. All your teeth, including the ones in the back which are never seen, are vital for good oral health, even your wisdom teeth. Wisdom teeth are the last of your teeth to come forth. These final set of molars show up after all your other teeth have arrived–the incisors, canines, premolars and molars. By the time you reach the age of six, the first molars erupt in your mouth with the second molars following around age 12. Your wisdom teeth generally come in when you are anywhere from 17-21 years old.

Why “Wisdom Teeth”?

Nicknamed “wisdom teeth”, these teeth come in just as you are maturing into adulthood at the age when people generally become “wiser.” Known as the “teeth of wisdom” in the 17th Century, they have been called “wisdom teeth” since the 19th Century. Recent research confirms that the brain continues to develop through the twenties. The decision-making, or rational part of the brain–the prefrontal cortex–isn’t fully developed until age 25. In effect, we really are wiser by the time the wisdom teeth emerge!

To Keep Them or Not to Keep Them

Even though people don’t always have problems with wisdom teeth, there are risks with keeping them in. Sitting so far in the back, they are more difficult to clean effectively, making brushing and flossing a challenge. This can result in tooth decay and gum disease as they can be a refuge for bacteria. A partially erupted wisdom tooth may be susceptible to pericoronitis—an infection where bacteria from food, plaque and debris becomes trapped in the areas between the impacted tooth and the gums.

A common problem with wisdom teeth is misalignment. This can happen because of where these teeth are located, in the back where there is not much space. They can crowd surrounding teeth, jawbone or nerves. Because of this misalignment and the potential to cause pain and infection, your dentist may recommend removal of your wisdom teeth.

If your dentist recommends removal, it is advisable to have it done earlier than later. Younger bone is not as dense and the roots of the wisdom tooth are not yet fully developed. Removing wisdom teeth when older can risk damaging the inferior alveolar nerve, a major nerve situated near the lower jawbone.

Our dentists will take X-rays, and after examining them and your teeth, will be better able to decide if your wisdom teeth need removal. For questions or concerns about your wisdom teeth, consult with one of our dentists to maintain your healthy smile! You can reach our Virginia Dental Group team today at 703-385-3800.