Wise guy, eh?

For years, having your wisdom teeth out has been a rite of passage.  Or at least a good excuse to miss school and inhale milkshakes.

But what is the deal with wisdom teeth? Why do they need to be taken out? Are they different than my other teeth?  Smarter?

Wisdom teeth, or 3rd molars in the dental world, are the third and last set of four molars to erupt in your mouth.  They come in right behind your second molars. Dens sapientiae in Latin, they are thought to have earned their name because of the late age at which they appear compared to the other teeth.  Most wisdom teeth erupt between the ages of 17 and 25 – when we (hopefully!) have more wisdom.

So why do wisdom teeth need to be removed?  Why can’t I keep mine?

You may be able to.

Wisdom teeth can be thrown into the same category as your appendix. They are vestigial organs that probably used to play an important role in tackling the prehistoric diet but have lost their importance through the generations.  So much so that some populations don’t even develop wisdom teeth any longer.

They can be a valuable asset to the mouth when they are healthy and properly positioned… but oftentimes, that isn’t the case. When the jaw isn’t large enough to accommodate wisdom teeth, they can become impacted (unable to come in or misaligned). Wisdom teeth may come in sideways, stick only part way out of the gums or remain trapped beneath the gum and bone. 

Extraction of wisdom teeth is generally recommended when:

  • Wisdom teeth only partially erupt.
  • It is likely that poorly aligned wisdom teeth will cause damage to your other teeth.
  • A growth called a dentigerous cyst forms that can destroy bone or tooth roots.

Wisdom teeth also have a higher tendency to me malformed and develop periodontal disease.

Ask your dentist about the health and positioning of their wisdom teeth. The dentist may make a recommendation for removal or send you to an oral surgeon for further evaluation.