What are Wisdom Teeth and why do we have them?
If you’ve ever wondered why those large molars in the back of your mouth are called “wisdom teeth”, what purpose wisdom teeth serve, or why most people’s wisdom teeth are removed – you’re not alone. In this post, we’ll go over the origin and purpose of our wisdom teeth. Primary teeth, known as “baby teeth”, begin to erupt (come through the gums) when we are around 8-9 months old until we are around age three. Small teeth are great for toddlers and young children, but eventually we need larger teeth to meet adult chewing needs. At around age 6 or 7, our baby teeth become loose and fall out. They are replaced by larger, adult-sized permanent teeth. With proper care, our permanent teeth will last the rest of our lives. See Pediatric Dental Care for more information. We have three types of primary teeth – incisors, canines (also called cuspids), and molars. Our permanent teeth also include “bicuspids” (or premolars), which fill the space between our cuspids and molars. According to this helpful timetable, our first set of permanent molars usually erupt when we are around 6 or 7 years old. Our second set comes in when we are around 12 or 13.
Why are wisdom teeth called wisdom teeth?
Our third and final set of molars begin to come through our gums when we are young adults, usually around 17-21 years old. Like the old saying goes, we become “older and wiser” with the passing of time. And since third molars usually don’t appear until someone reaches young adulthood, they came to be called “wisdom teeth”. In the Spanish language, wisdom teeth are known as las muelas del juicio, which translates to “molars of judgement” – same concept, just a different name. Whether having wisdom teeth really means someone is wise is certainly up for debate, but nonetheless, most everyone will have a set of third molars by the time they reach late adolescence or young adulthood.
What is the purpose of wisdom teeth?
To understand what were wisdom teeth used for, we must go all the way back to our ancient ancestors. Early humans had a much wider jawbone. Back in the caveman days, humans ate foods that were tough and course. They didn’t have knives to cut food up like we do today, so they needed the wide chewing surface of their third molars to help them eat tough pieces of uncooked meat and to help them eat the hearty meals they needed for survival. The wide jawbones of early humans had plenty of space for third molars. But with time, our jaw bones have become narrower. Because of this evolutionary process, there is no longer room for wisdom teeth in the jaw and oral cavity of modern humans, and most people will have to have them removed.
Why do wisdom teeth need to be removed?
For most people, the main reason wisdom teeth are removed is due to a lack of space for them to erupt. Your dentist will be able to see the position of your teeth by looking at x-rays of your mouth and jaw, which are usually taken at least once per year at your regular dental checkups. As you grow, the dentist will watch their development and recommend a treatment plan. If you need to have orthodontic treatment like braces, wisdom teeth may need to be removed so they do not cause straightened teeth to become misaligned. Dentists use the term “impacted” to describe a tooth that has not yet (or cannot) come through the gums. Impacted wisdom teeth are often problematic and can cause pain, cysts, infections, and may damage the other teeth. A wisdom tooth with nowhere to go can even be twisted or sideways under the gums, which will almost always require surgical removal. If the wisdom tooth comes through the gum, but isn’t in the right position, it can be hard to properly brush and floss the area. In those cases, there is a risk for food to be trapped and bacteria to grow and cause tooth decay and gum disease. If you do have a wisdom tooth that has come through the gums, your dentist will keep a close eye on it. If you ever have any pain or swelling related to your wisdom teeth, it is important to contact your dentist.
Who removes wisdom teeth?
The answer to this question depends on your unique situation and needs. If the wisdom tooth is visible and has come through the gums, it may be able to be removed with a simple extraction (removal). If the wisdom teeth are still under the gums, it may require surgery to have them removed before they come in. Wisdom teeth can be pulled by your dentist in their office. Or in more complicated cases, your dentist may recommend removal by an oral or maxillofacial surgeon. The dentists from Today’s Dental can evaluate your situation and come up with a treatment plan to meet your needs for wisdom tooth removal.