Wisdom Teeth Roots Explained

We’ve all heard our dentist or oral surgeon sigh as they look at one of our dental x-rays and tell us it’s time to get our wisdom teeth removed. Well, most of us have, anyway. It was probably in high school or college, and once they spotted them on the x-ray, they likely told you to schedule a wisdom tooth removal with some sort of urgency. Why?

There’s the usual, blanket-statement reason: that if you leave them in there they can wreak all sorts of havoc. They can push other teeth around, misalign your bite, and even cause damage to your jawbone. But it’s not just the tooth “crown” floating around in there – the wisdom tooth roots are… the “root” of the cause, if you will. And these are the reason your oral surgeon shooed you back to the front desk to schedule a wisdom tooth extraction.

What’s so special about your wisdom teeth’s roots? And why are they such a nuisance? A few reasons:

  • Wisdom teeth have varying numbers of roots, and the roots are curved, or sometimes even sharply bent. It’s much easier to remove a wisdom tooth when the root isn’t fully grown or settled in the jaw.
  • Wisdom tooth roots continue to grow over a long period of time, and as you age, the bone around them becomes denser, which is part of why getting your wisdom teeth removed later in life is more difficult with a longer recovery.
  • The longer the roots of your wisdom teeth are allowed to grow, the closer they get to the sensory nerves, making extraction more difficult and recovery more uncomfortable. Occasionally, the doctor removing your wisdom teeth will only remove the crown, leaving the roots locked in the jaw. This is a way to minimize nerve damage and the invasiveness of the extraction process.
  • Before your early 20’s, wisdom teeth roots are still lengthening, but not yet fully attached to the jaw. Once the jaw stops growing in your early to mid-20’s, the roots will start to take hold.

So, the urgency of a wisdom tooth extraction isn’t actually urgent – wisdom teeth roots are slow moving, much like tree roots. And also much like tree roots, when they do become “rooted,” they’re not easy to disrupt. Extracting the wisdom teeth before that stage of growth means a simple, quick removal process that isn’t invasive, often doesn’t require bone grafting, and results in an easy recovery process.

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