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2010 is The Year to Address those Wisdom Teeth

Our human ancestors used their wisdom teeth to help grind down food from plant sources. Scientists postulate that our ancestors did not have an efficient digestive tract capable of digesting the cellulose (the plant’s cell wall). Our ancestors therefore, had larger jaws with more teeth that enabled them to chew on the foliage. As the human race has gradually evolved, jaws have become smaller; however, the third molars (or wisdom teeth) still develop in most human mouths.

There is scientific data that suggests that if a culture today is still eating mostly plant sources for food then that modern day race has a higher percentage of people that are still developing wisdom teeth. For example, Indigenous Mexicans have a nearly 100% chance of having wisdom teeth because their diet is mainly based on plant sources. However, in cultures that food sources have changed to consuming mainly non-plant sources evidence is supporting that these modern day humans are gradually no longer producing wisdom teeth. For example, the Bantu speaking people of Africa who mainly consume meat sources such as cattle have a nearly 0.2% chance of having wisdom teeth.

Because wisdom teeth are not necessary for processing food, most dentists in the United States will recommend that they be removed. For the majority of people, wisdom teeth will appear between the ages of 16 and 25. They may erupt through the gum line or be impacted. Removal of wisdom teeth is recommended if the teeth are impacted or if they could become problematic if not extracted. Problems that potentially arise are generally due to infections because a toothbrush does not reach the area well and food particles can easily become trapped. This can result in pain and gum disease. In a worst-case scenario the infection could become systemic and pose a life-threatening infection. Wisdom teeth can also crowd other teeth resulting in pain and the need for orthodontia.

Removal of the wisdom teeth usually takes about 1 to 2 hours under IV sedation. Dr. Jason McCargar, a family and cosmetic dentist in Scottsdale, says that “after surgery, the patient can expect to have some bleeding, swelling, and pain from the site of the surgery.” Complications such as “dry socket” can occur. This is caused at the site of the surgery when blood clots fall out prematurely or do not form properly. It is very painful and an NSAID, such as Ibuprofen may help with the pain and inflammation. Generally, dry sockets will resolve without additional treatment within a couple of weeks. The complication of bleeding is normal for the first three days after surgery and is addressed by following your surgeon’s instructions. Packing the area with gauze pads and applying gentle pressure as directed will help to stop the bleeding and decrease inflammation. The complication of infection is prevented by properly cleaning the area as directed with a warm salt water rinse and this will also help to promote healing. One can expect about seven days post-surgery to be needed for adequate recovery. Dr. McCargar also stresses the importance of a post-operative appointment with your dentist or surgeon at day seven or ten to make sure that the healing process has no complications and that the wounds are relatively clean.