There’s a lot to think about and consider before undergoing orthodontic treatment, but one of the unexpected benefits of it is how much you’ll learn about orthodontics itself throughout the process. As you work towards a straighter smile, you’ll become much more familiar with your own teeth and all the incredible things they’re capable of. Over time, you’ll have quite a bit of knowledge that goes beyond the basics when it comes to the ways your teeth move and grow and how braces or aligners play a part in that. But one related subject you may be missing solid information on is wisdom teeth.
Yep! Wisdom teeth. Although they aren’t necessarily common topics in orthodontics, these molars can play a role in your overall oral health. Here at David Ross Orthodontics, we sometimes have patients – or parents – who want to know if emerging wisdom teeth can interfere with orthodontic treatment, or if they’re a threat to teeth that have been straightened with braces or aligners. Let’s explore these late-blooming teeth a little further below and learn more about what they are, why they are sometimes removed, and what that means for you as an orthodontic patient.
What are wisdom teeth?
Sometimes referred to as the third molars, wisdom teeth are the teeth that grow right at the back of your jaw. Although in modern times they don’t serve any truly useful function, our ancestors needed them to chew and digest a diet that consisted of many coarse foods, such as meat, nuts, and roots. As we evolved to a more varied diet, our jaws began to shrink in response and wisdom teeth became obsolete. In many adults, they are missing entirely, and for others, they never fully come through.
In most cases, the wisdom teeth will come through in proper alignment with little more than a bit of slight tenderness. In those cases, further action generally won’t be required. But because wisdom teeth grow in stages instead of all at once, if you do have issues with yours, there can be long periods of pain or discomfort as they erupt. By knowing what to expect, you’ll be able to work with us and your dentist to avoid any unnecessary suffering!
When should wisdom teeth be removed?
In the not too distant past, wisdom teeth were often preemptively as a way to prevent orthodontic crowding. Most modern evidence has shown this to be unnecessary. The goal of any medical procedure is to solve a problem for the patient and to improve their health. If there is no problem with your wisdom teeth, they can simply be monitored through regular dental check-ups, rather than removing them as a preventative treatment.
That said, there are some cases where removal of the wisdom teeth makes sense. This includes situations where:
- the wisdom teeth are causing repeated incidents of infection in the gum or cheek, often due to trapped food debris and the resulting bacteria
- the wisdom teeth have developed serious decay
- the wisdom teeth are causing tooth decay in adjacent teeth
- the wisdom teeth have developed a cyst or abscess
- the wisdom teeth are coming in sideways, stuck beneath the gum, or are only partially erupted, causing impaction, which can lead to swollen, infected, and painful gums
Even if you experience one or more of these difficulties as your wisdom teeth erupt, it doesn’t mean all four will need to be removed. In many cases, removal may be recommended for just the top or bottom wisdom teeth, or those on one side only.
Can wisdom teeth affect orthodontic treatment?
For many patients, braces will be applied before the wisdom teeth begin erupting through the gums. Wisdom teeth are late-bloomers, and don’t typically push through until your late teens or early twenties. But even if they start to emerge as you’re straightening your teeth, orthodontic treatment will generally not be affected. Most people will be able to continue the treatment process easily and without interruption. Wisdom teeth can be extracted while wearing braces if necessary, but if yours are coming through with no apparent issues, it’s unlikely we would suggest this. You know how the old saying goes – why fix it if it isn’t broken!
Can wisdom teeth affect the results of orthodontic treatment?
As we mentioned above, your wisdom teeth typically make an appearance in your late teens to early twenties. Some patients may also see a slight shifting of their teeth around this time as well. This is a natural phenomenon known as relapse, and when you consider the timing, it’s easy to see why people would believe wisdom teeth are the cause of this shifting.
However, The University of Iowa actually took this theory on in a study that involved placing sensors between the teeth of their subjects, then comparing the pressure on them with and without wisdom teeth. The researchers found that there was no difference between the two at all, proving wisdom teeth can’t exert enough pressure on their own to cause other teeth to shift.
If erupting wisdom teeth aren’t a factor in that natural drifting, you may be wondering what is. The answer to that is surprisingly simple: we age. As we get older, our teeth will begin to show signs of wear and tear, and a natural shifting begins. This can cause our teeth to begin overlapping, moving them slightly forward. If the teeth begin to overlap, the upper teeth can press the lower teeth in towards the tongue. Our jaws are often still growing at this time as well, which can force the teeth into less than optimal positions.
If you’re a braces patient here at David Ross Orthodontics, you’ve likely heard Dr. Ross and the rest of our team talk about how important it is to wear your retainer faithfully once your treatment is complete. This is precisely the reason why retainers are such a critical component to the overall success of the orthodontic process! Without regular retainer use, your teeth can begin shifting back towards their original positions more quickly than you’d imagine. Wearing your prescribed retainer as directed by Dr. Ross is an incredibly simple yet highly effective way to keep your teeth as straight as possible!
For a lifetime of straight smiles, trust David Ross Orthodontics
Although it’s unlikely your wisdom teeth will affect the picture-perfect smile you’ve achieved with braces or aligners, every patient and case is different. If you have any worries about the way your wisdom teeth are growing in, we recommend scheduling an appointment with your general dentist to have them take a look. We’re also happy to meet with you to discuss how this growth shouldn’t affect your orthodontic treatment or its results if you’re feeling nervous about it.
At David Ross Orthodontics, our goal is to provide a high-quality, individualized orthodontic experience for every patient. We focus on clear and open communication so you’ll feel confident in your orthodontic treatment from start to finish. Dr. Ross will work closely with your dentist to ensure not only a beautifully aligned smile, but one that is healthy and functional as well. Get in touch with us today with any questions and concerns. Your smile, comfort, and care are important to us!