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Can we "grow" wisdom teeth in old age?


wisdom tooth in old age 

I came across this article in a Luxembourg newspaper which really seems odd. Is it possible to "grow" a wisdom tooth at 92? The article did not elaborate further, only talking about getting into the Guinness World Records. Checking up the Guinness website yielded the following:

"The oldest person to grow a wisdom tooth is Ingeborg Wolf-Wimmer (Austria, b. 10 June 1922) who was aged 92 years 258 days when a wisdom tooth was confirmed to have erupted, in Saarburg, Germany, on 23 February 2015. Ingeborg, who is originally from Austria, now lives in Luxembourg."

As it turned out, it is not so much "growing" a wisdom tooth but rather, a case of late eruption of the tooth. Wisdom teeth typically erupts into the mouth between late teens and early twenties, hence the term "wisdom" because this is the supposed age when one becomes a young adult and presumably, "wise", which is debatable but that's another story. So, for this lady, why did the wisdom tooth take so long to surface?

Wisdom teeth are the last teeth to erupt into the mouth. The age of eruption varies quite a bit. Some children as young as 12 may experience wisdom teeth breaking through the gum while others may not see their wisdom teeth even after 92. There are some who are lucky enough not to have wisdom teeth at all, though these are the rare minority. New Call-to-action

Wisdom teeth are also called third molars. The first molar is the first "adult" tooth to erupt and typically at about age 6. This is followed by the incisors, the premolars and canines. Eruption of the "adult" teeth causes loosening of the "baby" teeth, which eventually drop off on their own. "Adult" molar teeth are unique in that they are not a replacement for the "baby" molars. They actually have no "baby" predecessor. It is the premolars that replaces the "baby" molars. The second molar is usually the second last tooth to erupt into the mouth, usually around the age of 10-12. By this time, all the "baby" teeth would have dropped off and the full complement of "adult" teeth would have emerged, less the wisdom teeth. With 28 teeth, the young teenager can eat and chew like an adult. 

The third molar, ie the wisdom tooth continue to develop inside the jaw bone until about age 18, by which time, the continuing formation of its roots pushes it out through the bone and gum. At this point, all the available space in the jaw would have been taken up by the earlier 28 teeth and the wisdom tooth gets stuck ie impacted against the second molar. This can cause a myriad of problems.

However, there are wisdom teeth that do not erupt at all. These wisdom teeth are deeply impacted within the bone. They usually do not cause any problem and can go unnoticed throughout life. So, why did Ingeborg Wolf-Wimmer's wisdom tooth decide to erupt at age 92? The article reported that the wisdom tooth was causing problems with her denture. By that, we know that she has lost some teeth if not all. Dentures typically rest on the gum and long term wearing of dentures causes resorption of the jaw bone. As the jaw bone shrinks down, the wisdom tooth begins to surface and eventually breaks through the gum. When that happens, the tooth will affect the fit of the denture resulting in instability of the denture. 

Should Ms Wolf-Wimmer remove her wisdom tooth? If there is no infection or cyst associated with the tooth, it should not be removed. Instead a new denture should be made. Removal of wisdom tooth is a relatively simple surgery in young patients but in the elderly, it can have significant morbidity due to the more brittle nature of the bone, the diminished healing ability, and concomittant systemic illnesses that tend to afflict older people. Some times, adjusting to a new denture that avoids the wisdom teeth may be challenging for an older person. To stabilize loose dentures, a couple of dental implants can be placed to help retain the denture. 

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