Why Do I Need My Wisdom Teeth Out?

Man holding his jaw due to impacted wisdom tooth

Wisdom teeth, sometimes referred to as third molars, are the last teeth to grow. Although common, not everyone develops these additional teeth in the back corners of their mouth. Wisdom teeth typically appear several years after the rest of your adult teeth — usually in the late teens or early adulthood.

Commonly, people have four extra molars, one in each corner. However, some people grow just one, two, or three wisdom teeth. Although the emergence of wisdom teeth can cause pain, tenderness, or discomfort, growing issues may resolve after a short period. In many cases, though, wisdom teeth can cause ongoing problems. This article covers more details about wisdom teeth, including why you may need them removed.

Why Do We Have Wisdom Teeth?

In short, wisdom teeth are a fascinating relic of our evolutionary past. Most scientists believe that these teeth are throwbacks from a time when our ancestors had larger jaws, capable of accommodating more teeth. These additional teeth were crucial for survival, enabling our predecessors to break down their food efficiently.

In times gone by, humans ate raw foods, such as meat and roots, which were harder and coarser than most meals of today. Additionally, they didn’t have cutlery to easily make mouthfuls smaller — their only tools were their teeth.

Nowadays, however, evolutionary changes mean that most people have smaller jaws than our ancestors. Major dietary changes also remove the necessity of extra teeth.

Do Some People Keep Their Wisdom Teeth?

A relatively small percentage of adults keep their wisdom teeth forever, experiencing no problems. People can keep these teeth when they grow in fully and are correctly aligned, are healthy and can be cleaned properly. In essence, wisdom teeth shouldn’t affect your ability to chew or bite, cause pain or discomfort, damage neighboring teeth or the cheek or jut out at awkward angles.

However, many people need their wisdom teeth extracted due to various reasons, including pain and poor oral health. Furthermore, dentists have traditionally favored wisdom teeth removal over the risk of problems later on.

Why Do Most People Need Their Wisdom Teeth Removed?

Mesial impaction of Wisdom teeth. Medically accurate tooth 3D illustration

Varying reasons lead to wisdom teeth removal, including:

Crowded Teeth

For many people, their jaws simply aren’t big enough anymore to fit in extra teeth. This can result in crowded teeth, which can then damage nearby teeth. Subsequently, tooth damage can lead to pain, swelling, sensitivity, and problems eating and talking. It may also increase the risk of cavities and gum disease, often because of difficulties cleaning adequately and removing harmful bacteria. Furthermore, crowded teeth can impact the whole dental structure, causing other teeth to be misaligned or overlapped, which often affects appearance, too.

Impacted Teeth

When wisdom teeth fail to emerge from the gums and stay trapped in the jaw, this is known as impaction. Sometimes, this causes infections or cysts. Not only are these issues painful, but they can also damage the roots of other teeth and the jaw bone.

Partially Grown Teeth

Wisdom teeth might not grow fully. The back of the mouth is already often challenging for many people when it comes to cleaning; partially grown wisdom teeth make it even harder to maintain good oral hygiene. This can encourage bacteria buildup, which may ultimately lead to infection, gum disease, and tooth decay.

At What Age Are Wisdom Teeth Usually Removed?

Although each case is unique, most people are relatively young when they have their wisdom teeth removed. Extraction typically takes place shortly after the wisdom teeth start to grow or cause issues. For most people, this is between their mid-teens and early 20s.

Because the jaw bone is less dense and the teeth roots aren’t yet fully developed, third molar extraction is generally easier and safer for younger people. Additionally, recovery time is typically shorter. For these reasons, individuals and their dentists may prefer to remove nonproblematic wisdom teeth rather than risk them causing issues in the future.

The History of Wisdom Teeth Removal

Astonishingly, evidence exists of wisdom teeth extraction from as far back as 500 BCE. Indeed, such procedures took place in crude forms in ancient civilizations, such as Mesopotamia and Egypt. The ancient Greeks and Romans commonly removed problematic teeth, albeit by basic — and likely very painful — means.

In the Middle Ages, dental extraction was a popular remedy for toothache, infections, and damaged teeth. However, it wasn’t until the 1700s that modern dentistry practices started to take shape. Anesthesia reduced pain, tools developed and techniques improved. Moreover, dentistry became a recognized profession, which continued to evolve over the following years. By the 20th century, specialized dental surgery existed.

Today, oral surgery is a professional field. Wisdom teeth removal has become fairly routine around the world.

If you’re experiencing problems with wisdom teeth, or have any other dental concerns, schedule an appointment with the experienced team at the Dental Partners of Boston.

Related Posts