When you undergo treatment with Dunn Orthodontics, you tend to pick up quite a bit of knowledge surrounding the topic of teeth. You learn all about how they grow, how braces or aligners move them into better positions, and how to keep your smile straight once your treatment is complete. But there’s one set of teeth you may not be so familiar with – your wisdom teeth! Because they’re not a particularly common topic of conversation, many people are unaware of the part wisdom teeth play in our oral health and development.

These late-blooming molars are the very last teeth to erupt, and don’t normally make an appearance until we’re in our late teens or early twenties. The timing sometimes leaves patients (and parents!) wondering if a newly straightened smile will be impacted by the wisdom teeth coming in. We love educating our patients on the ins and outs of orthodontics, so let’s take a closer look at what the wisdom teeth are, what you can expect when they erupt, and if there’s any reason to be concerned about them affecting orthodontic patients.

What are wisdom teeth? Why do we have them?

So many of us have our wisdom teeth removed at one point or another that you may even wonder why have them anymore! Rest assured, they once served an important function. They were essential for our ancestors, in fact, who had a diet that revolved around coarse foods like roots, nuts, and tough meats that required large, powerful jaws to chew. However, as our diet began to evolve and become more varied, our jaws grew smaller in response. In the present day, many people have jaws that are simply too small for the wisdom teeth to grow in comfortably. This is not the case for everyone, obviously. Plenty of us experience our wisdom teeth erupting with nothing more than some temporary tenderness, requiring no further action. But there are those who experience discomfort, pain, and even infections as their wisdom teeth grow in. In these cases, removal of one or all the wisdom teeth may be recommended.

x-ray of teeth

Is removal of the wisdom teeth always recommended?

As we touched on above, wisdom teeth won’t always need to be removed. There are some cases where removal is beneficial, however. If there isn’t enough room in your mouth for your wisdom teeth to come through, it can put pressure on the adjacent teeth. Furthermore, if the wisdom teeth come in sideways, they can become jammed behind the last tooth in the mouth. This is what we would call impaction, and it can lead to gums that are painful and swollen. Partially erupted teeth as this can also be difficult to clean effectively, which of course sets you up for recurrent infections, and can cause potential damage to the healthy molars beside the wisdom teeth. 

The big question: can wisdom teeth actually undo orthodontic progress?

In answering this question, we need to look at the timing, because it’s an important factor. In general, patients in their late teens or early twenties will see a slight shifting of their teeth. Because this tends to occur around the same time wisdom teeth are erupting, many people assume the two events are connected. However, research has shown this assumption to be incorrect. The University of Iowa actually put this to the test and conducted a study which placed sensors between the teeth to compare the amount of pressure on them with and without wisdom teeth. The results conclusively showed that there was no difference between the two.

But if erupting wisdom teeth aren’t causing the nearby teeth to move, what is? The answer is pretty simple: the aging process!

As we get older, our teeth start to show some general signs of wear and tear. They also begin a natural drifting. This can cause our teeth to overlap and move slightly forward, with the upper teeth pressing the lower teeth in towards the tongue. Residual jaw growth can also force the teeth into undesirable positions. This is the biggest reason why we talk so much about how important retainers are once your treatment is complete! Wearing one as directed by our doctors will give you the best chance of keeping your beautiful smile on the straight and narrow after your braces come off.

girl with braces

The wise choice for a healthy smile is Dunn Orthodontics

It’s unlikely that erupting wisdom teeth will affect patients still in braces, and we know they won’t change the outcome of an orthodontic treatment that’s already been completed. That said, removing them may still be recommended if our doctors, or your general dentist, feel that it would be beneficial to your oral health to do so. Every patient and every case is different, so we recommend scheduling a consultation with one of our three conveniently located offices to learn more about your wisdom teeth and how they work with orthodontic treatment.