Wisdom teeth are the third molars at the very back of your mouth. They are large and they are the last of your adult teeth to grow in. They typically appear in your late teens to early twenties. Wisdom teeth are often removed after they grow in, for a variety of reasons.
They can crowd your other teeth, cause infections and even not grow in fully. However, there are also many people who choose not to remove these teeth, and even some who never have them grow in at all.
Let’s explore the role of wisdom teeth and dive deeper into why so many people get them removed. You will be able to make a better decision about whether or not to remove your own wisdom teeth, but we always suggest you consult with a dental professional before making such a big decision.
Wisdom teeth are a type of vestigial structure. This means that from an evolutionary standpoint, they once served a purpose for our human ancestors, but are no longer useful today. Another example of a vestigial structure is the appendix.
Wisdom teeth were used by our ancestors to chew and break down tough foods such as roots and grains. Their large, molar-like shape made them ideal for grinding and compressing foods that would be difficult for the body to digest otherwise.
They served a significant purpose and prevented our ancestors from choking and proverbially ‘biting off more than they could chew.’
This all changed however with the invention of refined and processed grains. As soon as humans invented tools to grind grains and fibrous foods into more palatable forms, the wisdom teeth became less of a necessity and more of a hindrance.
As humans have evolved further, we no longer forage for rough roots and unrefined grains, in fact most grains we know today have been farmed. As a result, wisdom teeth are now vestigial and in modern humans, up to 35% of the population is born without ever forming wisdom teeth at all. Our jaws have also become smaller, and do not easily accommodate these four, large teeth of the past. This can lead to infections and additional problems that often require wisdom teeth removal.
Often, your wisdom teeth do not necessarily need to be removed right away, however, they are removed as a preventative measure in order to prevent future infections.
Wisdom teeth are situated very far back in the mouth, and this makes them difficult to clean with a regular toothbrush and floss. Often, bacteria can build up in these areas as a result. If the tooth is partially erupted (i.e. not fully emerged from the gums) they can trap and hold food under the gums as well.
This leads to painful infections, inflammation and abscesses. Preventative wisdom teeth removal is done in order to keep this from happening to patients in the future.
Wisdom teeth are the last set of teeth to grow in, and they appear once all of your adult teeth are fully in place.
Wisdom teeth are also the largest of all adult teeth, which means that there is often not enough room for them in your mouth. As a result, when they grow, they will push against your other adult teeth. This can lead to crooked teeth and a misaligned bite.
This is not ideal, especially for patients who have had orthodontic work to correct teeth alignment and bite in their teens.
That is why wisdom teeth are generally removed in the teen and early adult years, in order to keep them from fully growing in and pushing your other teeth out of alignment.
As mentioned above, there is often not enough room for wisdom teeth to fully grow into your mouth. This can also cause a ‘partial eruption.’ This happens when the wisdom tooth grows in along the jawline but does not fully emerge through the gums. This leaves part of the tooth partially covered by your gum tissue.
This creates a dangerous breeding ground for bacteria to gather, as it can be very hard to clean the areas that are not fully erupted. Depending on how severe the case is, your dentist may suggest wisdom tooth extraction.
However, if the tooth is almost completely erupted, your dentist may simply be able to remove the excess gum tissue around your wisdom teeth so they become fully erupted and easier to clean.
Sometimes, again, due to the lack of space in the modern human jawline, wisdom teeth may grow in, out of alignment. They can even grow sideways and push directly against your other teeth. When this happens it is called wisdom tooth impaction.
In this case, the tooth may be partially visible from under the gumline, or it may be fully hidden under the gums. A dental x-ray can help to identify patients with wisdom tooth impaction. Wisdom tooth removal is often recommended in these cases.
If your wisdom teeth become infected or form an abscess due to infection, your dentist will most often suggest they be removed.
This promotes fast healing and it also ensures the situation will not happen again. Depending on the amount of wisdom teeth that are infected, your dentist may suggest removing all 4, or just the infected tooth.
The only instance where you might have to have your wisdom teeth removed is in the case of severe infection or pain.
In most cases, you should be fine to keep your wisdom teeth if they are:
Many patients do end up keeping their wisdom teeth, and, when they are healthy and fully grow-in properly, there is often nothing wrong with that.
Due to the fact that they are difficult to clean, keeping wisdom teeth can leave you more vulnerable to them eventually becoming infected however.
If you are considering wisdom teeth removal, it’s best to get a professional opinion for your specific situation. The dentists at Poco Comfort Dentistry are here to help you make a more informed decision.
Our team can take x-rays of your bite and see how your wisdom teeth have grown in so far. We can then give you a better idea of whether or not you should keep them or have them removed. Contact us to book your appointment today.