Teething to Wisdom Teeth

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Primary Teeth | Permanent Teeth | Wisdom Teeth

Primary Teeth

Teeth are a wonderfully complex part of the human body. It is easy for most of us to overlook all of the ways that our teeth have an impact upon our daily lives from birth to old age - from affecting the overall look of our face and enjoying foods, to the important role they play in helping to prevent health problems in other parts of our body, including our heart.

You may not realize it, but your baby is born with a complete set of teeth; small as they are, hidden in the deep recesses of the jawbone.

From birth to about the age of 3, you will witness in your child the gradual eruption of 20 primary teeth, also called "baby teeth." Primary teeth are important because they are essential in the development and location of what they will eventually be replaced by: a full set of 32 permanent teeth (16 each on top and bottom) in the adolescent and young adult.

Primary teeth maintain the spaces where permanent teeth will later erupt, and also help in speech development and aesthetics. Take good care of your child's primary teeth. Even though primary teeth last only a few years, decay, cavities, and infection can take their toll, and may require expensive treatment.

Your child will generally have all his or her primary teeth by the age of 3, and will keep all of them until age 5 or 6, when they begin to loosen and fall out. The first primary teeth to shed are typically the front teeth on the bottom. The process of shedding primary teeth usually lasts until the child is 12 or 13. It is common for your child to retain some primary teeth to the age of 12 or 13; this is usually the case with molars and canines.

It is important to properly care for your child's primary teeth because they ultimately affect the development of your child's permanent teeth. Primary teeth serve many purposes, including:

  • Chewing and eating
  • Holding space for permanent teeth
  • Development of the jaw bone and muscles
  • Speech and appearance

If your child loses a primary tooth too soon (either from injury or disease), the permanent tooth may not be ready to erupt. Consequently, surrounding teeth may "hog" the space left by the lost primary tooth, leading to problems later on when the permanent tooth begins to erupt. When primary teeth erupt out of their proper positions, this may lead to "malocclusion," which causes teeth to become misaligned, crowded, or crooked. Consult our office if you think your child loses a primary tooth too soon. In many cases, future problems can be avoided by space maintainers, which are appliances that hold surrounding teeth at bay. Once the permanent tooth is ready to erupt, the appliance may be removed.

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Permanent Teeth

The first permanent molars (which are not preceded by primary teeth) begin erupting around the age of 6. Extra care should be given to this first set of molars; they have a significant impact on the structure and position of future erupting teeth and, consequently, the shape of your child's lower face in later years.

Throughout your child's formative years (up and through the age of 21), the bones and muscles the face are constantly growing, shifting and changing. Most important (and visible to no one because it happens so gradually) is the fact that a child's jaw expands over a period of time, making way for an increase of 12 additional teeth. By about age 14, your child should have a full set of 28 permanent teeth, plus four additional teeth, called wisdom teeth, that grow behind the permanent teeth in late adolescence.

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Wisdom Teeth

Wisdom teeth are types of molars found in the very back of your mouth. These teeth usually appear in late teens or early twenties but may become impacted (fail to erupt) due to lack of room in the jaw or angle of entry. The most common type of impacted wisdom tooth is “mesial”, meaning that the tooth is angled forward toward the front of your mouth.

When a wisdom tooth is impacted, it may need to be removed. If it is not removed, you may develop gum tenderness, swelling, or even severe pain. Impacted wisdom teeth that are partially or fully erupted tend to be quite difficult to clean and are susceptible to tooth decay, recurring infections, and even gum disease.

Each patient's situation is unique. Dr. Eric Downey, Dr. Carolyn Muckerheide, or  Dr. Ashley Schaaf will usually take a panoramic X-ray to determine whether your wisdom teeth will need to be removed. If your dentist recommends removal of your wisdom teeth, you will be referred to an oral surgeon.  It is best to have them removed sooner rather than later.

Wisdom teeth are typically removed in the late teens or early twenties because there is a greater chance that the teeth's roots have not fully formed and the bone surrounding the teeth is less dense. These two factors can make extraction easier, as well as making the recovery time much shorter.

To remove a wisdom tooth, the oral surgeon first needs to numb the area around the tooth with a local anesthetic. The oral surgeon can use additional medication to safely sedate you during the extraction if you are feeling nervous about the procedure. Since the impacted tooth may still be under the gums and imbedded in your jaw bone, the oral surgeon will need to remove a portion of the covering bone to extract the tooth. To minimize the amount of bone that is removed with the tooth, the oral surgeon will often “section” your wisdom tooth so that each piece can be removed through a small opening in the bone.

Once your wisdom teeth have been extracted, the healing process begins. Healing time varies depending on the degree of difficulty related to the extraction. Your oral surgeon let you know what to expect and will provide instructions for a comfortable, efficient healing process.

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