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Wise up to your wisdom teeth

Home truths about your wisdom teeth from Dr. DEVANARAYAN.

S.R. RAGHUNATHAN

HAVE you ever thought about a tooth called a " wisdom" tooth? You get these teeth as an adult at 18 and believe it or not, you may be none the wiser for it! They just happen to be the last teeth to appear in the adult jaw.

The question of troublesome wisdom teeth has cropped up often over the years: As the human species evolves and the form modifies itself to suit function, the softer foods of today have made jaws smaller. We started off with four molars on every side; we are now down to three. The last, or the third molar as the wisdom tooth is generally termed, ends up short of space to accommodate comfortably in the back of the jaw. It is then that the term "impacted" is used, when it is jammed against a neighbouring tooth at different angles or in the jawbone itself in a position, which is not favourable for the tooth to erupt.

Let us look at a few possibilities when a tooth is impacted.

In the upper jaw, these teeth sometimes grow so far back that it is almost impossible to maintain them in a hygienic state. Very often, they get decayed due to accumulated food and start breaking down exposing the nerve of the tooth and causing severe pain. The tooth could be tilted towards the cheek and cause biting or harmful friction to the muscle of the cheek. The position of the tooth itself could cause pressure on the jaw joint to cause an unbalanced bite, clicking and grating of the joint and very frequently accompanying headache which could radiate down the back of your head and neck. When they emerge, partly due to lack of space, food tends to accumulate in the area.

In the lower jaw, the usual problem is the angle at which the tooth emerges. It could happen in one of the following ways: Towards the jaw bone at the angle of the jaw causing frequent enlargement of the gums and infection tracking down to the angle of the jaw; growing vertically but stuck at a lower level than the adjacent tooth; fully submerged, frequently pushing against the adjacent tooth; and towards the tooth in front of it causing a hygiene and pressure problem and highly decay prone.

An impacted tooth must be removed as soon as the first symptoms are diagnosed rather than wait till it causes decay in the next tooth. There is a disputed theory that the arrival of the wisdom tooth, which grows towards the forward direction, may also displace or push the other teeth out of alignment. Crowding of front teeth is frequently seen and associated with the oncoming wisdom tooth.

Dentists generally recommend extraction of unfavourably positioned wisdom teeth. The procedure is commonly performed under a local anaesthetic. In some cases where the positioning of the tooth and access is difficult or where all the wisdom teeth are impacted the procedure is performed under general anaesthesia. Recovery is uneventful with a mild swelling after the procedure and you are back in action after a couple of days.

With today's advances in modern dentistry, dental surgery has also advanced considerably to make the procedure nearly painless.

Your wisdom tooth is a part of growing up, like glasses and braces, So get wise and get yourself a dental check up to find out the truth about your tooth.

The writer is an Oral and Maxillo Facial Surgeon at The Dental Clinic, Chennai. Ph: 28274114, 28224114.

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