Wisdom Teeth and Braces

Here at Kaplan Orthodontics, we believe one of the best, if unexpected, benefits of orthodontic treatment is the knowledge you gain in the process. As you work towards a straighter smile, you’ll learn about orthodontics itself, and become much more familiar with your own teeth and the amazing things they’re capable of. Knowing how braces or aligners shift your teeth can make you a more active participant in your treatment, something we wholly encourage. But one related subject you find yourself missing solid information on is the role wisdom teeth play in your overall oral health.

Wisdom teeth may not be a common topic in orthodontics, but we will sometimes have patients – or parents – who worry that emerging wisdom teeth may interfere with their orthodontic treatment, or that their eruption will knock a newly straightened smile out of alignment. Keep reading below to learn more about what wisdom teeth are, why removing them is sometimes recommended, and what all of this means for you as an orthodontic patient!

What are wisdom teeth?

Wisdom teeth are the third set of molars and the last teeth to emerge in your mouth, growing right at the back of your jaw. In today’s world, they don’t have any particular function, but they once enabled our ancestors to chew and digest a diet full of coarse foods like tough meat, nuts, and roots. Once we began evolving to a more varied diet, our jaws shrank in response and the  wisdom teeth became more or less obsolete.

In many adults, they are missing entirely, or they may never fully come through. Your wisdom teeth may erupt in proper alignment with little more than some slight tenderness, and require no further action. However, if you do experience issues with yours, there can be long periods of pain or discomfort as they erupt, because wisdom teeth grow in stages instead of all at once. By knowing what to expect, you’ll be able to work with us and your dentist to hopefully avoid any unnecessary suffering.

When should wisdom teeth be removed?

Until fairly recently, wisdom teeth were sometimes preemptively as a way to prevent orthodontic crowding, but modern evidence has shown this to be largely unnecessary. If the goal of any medical procedure is to solve a problem for the patient and to improve their health, it stands to reason that if your wisdom teeth are developing normally and without problem, they can be monitored through regular dental check-ups rather than removing them as a preventative measure.

There are some cases where removal of the wisdom teeth will be indicated. This includes situations where:

  • the wisdom teeth cause recurrent infections in the gums or cheek, often due to trapped food debris and the resulting bacteria that develops
  • 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 impacted (coming in sideways, stuck beneath the gum, partially erupted, etc), leading to swollen, infected, and painful gums

Bear in mind that even if you experience one or more of these difficulties with erupting wisdom teeth, it doesn’t necessarily mean all four will need to be removed. Depending on your particular case, removal may be recommended for just the top or bottom wisdom teeth, or for those on one side only.

Can wisdom teeth affect orthodontic treatment?

For many patients, orthodontic treatment will begin before the wisdom teeth start pushing through the gums. That’s because the wisdom teeth are late-bloomers, and don’t typically begin emerging until your late teens or early twenties. But even if they do start to grow in as you’re straightening your teeth, orthodontic treatment will generally not be affected. Most people are able to continue the treatment process easily and without interruption. Wisdom teeth can even be extracted while wearing braces if necessary, but if yours are coming through with no apparent issues, it’s unlikely this would be recommended. Why fix what isn’t broken, right?

Wisdom Teeth X-Ray

Can wisdom teeth affect the results of orthodontic treatment?

We’ve mentioned that your wisdom teeth tend to make an appearance in your late teens to early twenties. Around this same timeframe, some patients may also see a slight shifting of their teeth occur. This is a natural phenomenon known as relapse, but when you consider the timing, it’s understandable that people would believe wisdom teeth are the culprit of this movement.

The University of Iowa actually took this theory on in a study. Researchers placed sensors between the teeth of their subjects, then compared the pressure on them with and without wisdom teeth. They found that there was no difference between the two at all, proof that wisdom teeth don’t exert enough pressure on their own to cause the other teeth to shift. But if erupting wisdom teeth aren’t a factor in that natural drifting, what is? As it turns out, the answer to that is surprisingly simple: we get older.

Throughout the aging process, our teeth will begin to show signs of wear and tear, and a natural shifting begins. This can cause our teeth to start overlapping, moving them slightly forward. This overlapping can also cause the upper teeth to press the lower teeth in towards the tongue. Our jaws are often still growing at this time as well, which may force the teeth into less than optimal positions.

If you’re a patient here at Kaplan Orthodontics, you’ve probably heard Dr. Kaplan and the rest of our team talk about the importance of wearing a retainer regularly once the first phase of treatment is complete. This natural relapse is precisely the reason why! Retainers are a critical part of the orthodontic process, and without them, straightened teeth can begin shifting back towards their original positions more quickly than you’d imagine. Wearing your prescribed retainer exactly as directed by Dr. Kaplan is a simple yet highly effective way to keep your teeth as straight as possible once your braces come off or you use your last aligner.

Dr. Kaplan with Patient

Trust your teeth to Kaplan Orthodontics

Although it’s unlikely your wisdom teeth will affect the alignment you’ve achieved with braces or aligners, every patient and every case is different. If you’ve been worried about the way your wisdom teeth are growing in, we recommend scheduling an appointment with your general dentist. He or she will be able to take a look and let you know what to expect throughout the eruption process.

Here at Kaplan Orthodontics, our talented team is committed to providing only the highest-quality orthodontic care to every patient. Our individualized approach and clear communication means you can feel confident in your treatment plan from start to finish! Dr. Kaplan will work closely with your dentist to ensure your smile looks beautiful, feels great, and is healthy and functional. Get in touch with us whenever you have a question or concern about your treatment or oral health. Your comfort and confidence are as important to us as your smile!