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Why Do We Even Have Wisdom Teeth?

wisdom teeth

From infancy through adolescence, we develop our first set of teeth, lose them, and then grow a whole new set. Just when you think you’re all done growing teeth, a new set of molars emerge, which we call “wisdom teeth.”

After you’ve waited so long for your final teeth to come in, they may cause discomfort and health problems and often need to be extracted. Why is that?

All of the teeth that a person will ever have are present at birth in the structure of the skull. The formation of our teeth is a function of the size of our jaw. First, a set of 20 small primary teeth erupt and eventually fall out, being replaced by 32 permanent, adult-sized teeth. The last teeth to emerge are the third molars, usually growing in by age 21.

Wisdom teeth were once essential for early humans, but we’ve actually outgrown our need for them now that we cook our food and use utensils. We even have slightly smaller jaws than our early ancestors, to make more room for our large (and impressive!) brains.

In fact, wisdom teeth have become so unnecessary that many humans are born without some or all of them. But while they may be going the way of the dodo, wisdom teeth often bring along complications.

Most of the problems caused by wisdom teeth are due to the fact that they just don’t fit. Smaller jaws mean there isn’t always enough room in the mouth for all of these teeth! If a wisdom tooth gets stuck under your gum or doesn’t have enough room to break through the gum, it’s considered “impacted.” Impacted wisdom teeth are more prone to disease, tooth decay, and other dental problems.

Symptoms of Impacted Wisdom Teeth

impacted wisdom teeth

Some people with impacted wisdom teeth won’t notice any problems at all, while others will have obvious symptoms.

A partially impacted wisdom tooth may cause food to become trapped and can make cleaning the tooth more difficult. For some people, a partially impacted tooth is very painful.

If the tooth becomes infected or causes other issues, you may have symptoms such as:

  • pain or swelling around the jaw
  • bad breath
  • crooked or crowded teeth
  • tooth decay
  • cysts and infections in the gums

When a patient is facing complications from impacted wisdom teeth, it is advisable to extract them. And we often recommend that wisdom teeth are extracted before they cause problems. Sometimes dentists will recommend wisdom tooth removal before any orthodontic work, like braces, to ensure that these teeth don’t erupt later and undo all the hard work of shaping your jaw and teeth.

All teenagers should be evaluated for wisdom teeth removal. People who get their wisdom teeth removed at a younger age, before the roots and bone have fully formed, tend to heal better from the surgery.

What’s the Outlook?

An impacted wisdom tooth might not cause any problems at all. If you do have symptoms, contact us right away. And if you have a teenager, consider them evaluated for preemptive wisdom tooth extraction and stay ahead of future problems before they become right-now problems.