What Exactly is a Wisdom Tooth?

Wisdom Tooth Extraction

Older means wiser, right? That’s certainly the case with wisdom teeth.

These large molars only begin to emerge in the early adult years, which is the reason for their namesake. Since you get them when you’re older, you’re presumably “wiser”.

Every adult can expect to have three sets of molars by the time they’re 21 years old. As the last set to emerge (usually in the teenage years) wisdom teeth are located in the back of the mouth on both the top and bottom.

Why Do We Have Wisdom Teeth?

In the past, the human diet was vastly different than it is now. People often ate roots, leaves, meat, and nuts — all of which required a larger set of molars to chew and gnaw. In the modern age, we cook our foods to soften them and use forks and knives to cut them (instead of our teeth). So our diets no longer require the use of wisdom teeth.

What’s fascinating is that because of this, not every person gets wisdom teeth. Scientists have noticed a genetic adaptation in humans to the point where only 53 percent of adults get at least one wisdom tooth.

Why Do Most People Get Wisdom Teeth Removed?

Not only do we not need wisdom teeth to eat nutritious foods and lead healthy lives, we don’t really want wisdom teeth. These molars can cause an array of oral health problems. Sometimes the wisdom teeth don’t come all the way through the gums (this is called an impacted wisdom tooth) and can cause pain. Other times they crowd the jaw and cause:

  • Crooked teeth
  • Increased tooth decay
  • Jaw soreness
  • Cysts under the gums
  • Damage to neighboring teeth
  • Gum disease

When any of the above happen, the American Dental Association recommends wisdom teeth removal. A professional dentist or oral and maxillofacial surgeon can perform wisdom teeth removal surgery.

When is the Best Time to Get Wisdom Teeth Removed?

The earlier you have problematic wisdom teeth removed, the better. Younger ages tend to recover from surgery faster and easier than those of older age, when the wisdom teeth roots and bone have more time to establish themselves in the jaw. The younger you are when your wisdom teeth are removed, the lower the odds of developing oral health problems because of them.

Many times dentists will recommend having your wisdom teeth removed before orthodontic work, like braces. That’s because wisdom teeth can cause your teeth to shift or become crowded, which can hinder the success of teeth straightening strategies.

Wisdom teeth removal surgery is a routine, outpatient procedure that takes a short amount of time. If you choose not to have your wisdom teeth removed, make sure you take good care of them with regular brushing and flossing. Monitor them for any signs of problems and alert your dentist if you notice anything unusual.

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