Wisdom Teeth 101

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Wisdom teeth, or third molars, usually come in after adolescence, appearing between the ages of 17 and 21. The purpose of wisdom teeth is not known with certainty, though it is hypothesized that they may be vestiges of the jaw structure of prehistoric humans. Our ancestors would often experience tooth wear from regular use, sometimes losing molars, so a third set of molars that appear later than other permanent teeth could have helped replace the missing bite power.

wisdom teeth 101Over time, our jaws have become smaller and our diets have softened, allowing our current molars to last longer. It is therefore theorized that we may have evolved to a point where wisdom teeth are now obsolete, and for many people they are more of a hindrance than a benefit. Not all dental professionals agree, but many dentists do recommend their patients get their wisdom teeth removed in their late teens to early 20’s, before they emerge from the gums.

Reasons for Getting Wisdom Teeth Removed

While not all people need to get their wisdom teeth removed, health problems associated with them are common. These include:

  • Pain and discomfort: Wisdom teeth are full-sized adult teeth, so the process of emerging from the gums can be painful, and they often rub against the rear molars, causing further pain
  • Risk of Infection: Not only do wisdom teeth create wounds coming in, but brushing them can be more difficult because of their far-back position in the jaw; using a thin, long brush with a small head can help in the cleaning of these hard-to-reach areas
  • Tooth Misalignment: Perhaps the most common reason wisdom teeth are removed is because they can push other teeth out of alignment; some dentists recommend removing wisdom teeth as soon as they show up on an x-ray, before they have the chance of doing this damage

Not everybody needs to get their wisdom teeth removed, and for some people they come in with no problems at all. When your wisdom teeth first show up in dental x-rays, consult your dentist about which choice will be best for you and your mouth.