Most of us have heard of wisdom teeth, and many of us have had them removed, but what are they anyway? And why do so many people have trouble with them?
Some folks believe that we stop going through dental changes once our second set of teeth has completely erupted. This isn’t accurate.
Our first set of molars comes in around the age of six. The second set, at approximately age 12. Following this pattern, a third set (wisdom teeth) begins to come in behind the rest of our teeth at about 17–21 years of age.
This third set of molars, when free of complications, can be a great benefit in chewing and digestion. Unfortunately, the space needed for them to erupt properly isn’t always available.
Then Why Do We Have Them?
This is a tough question to answer. The best we can do is surmise, based on the evidence.
Anthropologists generally believe that these molars were once vital for humans in the distant past, when diets were rougher and lives were more rugged. Raw foods like leaves, roots, nuts, and wild meat can take a toll on the teeth. In a time when the health of teeth directly correlated to life expectancy, third molars would have been vital.
With the rise of civilization and quality of life, wisdom teeth became less and less necessary. Some even consider these teeth to be vestigial organs, just like the appendix. As a result, human jaws have gradually become smaller, complicating the growth of these teeth.
What Problems Could I Have?
We don’t need these wisdom teeth to survive, usually, so they can cause a number of problems. Since our jaws are much smaller, the teeth just don’t fit, more often than not. While they grow beneath the gums, they fill what little space they’ve got, which cramps them up.
Some third molars develop at an angle. When they try to grow in, they run into the next tooth next door. Others form completely sideways. No matter how much room the jaw has, these sideways teeth will never break the surface to become standard, working molars.
The roots of wisdom teeth can also become deformed. Some fuse together. Some split widely apart, curving at odd angles.
Whatever the reason your wisdom teeth struggle, the results are often the same: pain, infection and tooth decay.
How Do I Fix It?
Wisdom tooth extraction is a safe and common practice. However, because each person’s molars form in unique ways, each extraction must also be unique. The best way to decide exactly what you need is to set up an appointment. We’ll be able to look inside your mouth and come up with a plan that suits you.