From birth to adolescence, teeth erupt from the gums in stages: the incisors come first, then the canines, premolars and molars and, finally, wisdom teeth.
What are wisdom teeth?
Dentists refer to wisdom teeth as third molars; they appear at the very back of the mouth. People usually develop four, one behind each molar on each side of the upper and lower jaw. Some people don’t experience any problems with their wisdom teeth, but others can experience pain, infection, and discomfort.
When Do They Appear?
They often appear between the ages of 17 and 21. How they emerge differs with each individual. Wisdom teeth may only partially erupt through the gum tissue, or even stay buried underneath it. Teeth that remain covered by tissue and/or bone are known as “impacted” teeth.
Why Wisdom Teeth Appear
Because they cause so many problems and are not necessary for chewing, doctors question their original function. It is speculated that wisdom teeth grow in adolescence and not in utero (or at birth) like other teeth because hundreds of years ago the typical diet was very abrasive. Under those circumstances, the third set of molars may have been useful for replacing molars that had eroded. Now that diets are softer, teeth don’t get worn out as quickly, so there are no gaps for wisdom teeth to fill in. Prehistoric jaws were also speculated to be larger than that of modern humans.
When Removal is Necessary
When wisdom teeth cause problems, or X-rays show they might cause issues over time, they need to be extracted or removed. Other good reasons to take them out include:
- Damage to other teeth: Extra molars can be pushy. If your wisdom teeth are pushing your other teeth around, this can cause pain and bite misalignment. If the bite becomes misaligned due to overcrowding, straightening of your teeth (with braces, etc.) may be necessary.
- Damage to your jaw: Cysts can form around them. Left untreated, cysts can hollow out your jaw and damage nerves.
- Sinus Issues: Problems with impacted teeth can lead to sinus pain, pressure, and congestion. Think about how close those teeth are to your sinuses.
- Gum Inflammation: Tissue around the wisdom teeth can swell and be hard to clean, resulting in poor gum health.
- Cavities: Swollen, inflamed gums create pockets between teeth where bacteria grow and cavities form.
Your dentist will look at the shape of your mouth and the position of your teeth to make a decision about whether or not they need to be removed. Your age also plays a role, too.
You can find out more about the extraction of the third molars here.