wisdom teethDo you still have your wisdom teeth? Otherwise known as third molars, these teeth are well known for causing people pain or expense in having them removed. They don’t seem to serve much of a purpose, so have you ever wondered why we even have wisdom teeth? The answer might surprise you.

What Are Wisdom Teeth?

Wisdom teeth are a biological hack humans have outgrown. When people lived a nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyle, eating roots and raw meat, they needed teeth that were much more powerful to process their food. In the prehistoric environment, wisdom teeth were an asset. Since people settled into a farming lifestyle about 10,000 years ago and began to grow their food, modify it through experimentation and cross breeding, and cook it with tools, food has gotten softer and easier to eat – and wisdom teeth became obsolete.  

The problem is that our ancestors jaw bones were bigger. We have retained the extra teeth, but not the jaw size. So there’s no room for our wisdom teeth, and this causes numerous problems. Not everyone has wisdom teeth or the same number of wisdom teeth. You can have up to four or, vary rarely, even more. Genetics play a part in how many wisdom teeth you’re likely to get. African Americans and Asian Americans are more likely to have fewer wisdom teeth than people whose ancestors came from Europe.

When Do People Get Wisdom Teeth?

Wisdom teeth typically erupt after adolescence – between the ages of 18 and 25. This is the reason for the name. “Wisdom comes with age,” after all. These teeth form in the gums slowly, and when the roots are fully formed, they are difficult to remove. If wisdom teeth do not erupt through the gums, they are said to be impacted. Impacted teeth require surgery to be extracted, whereas teeth that have erupted can be pulled.

Do Wisdom Teeth Have To Be Removed?

As noted, not everyone gets wisdom teeth, and some people never suffer problems with their wisdom teeth. Unfortunately, wisdom teeth can cause problems that are sometimes hard to predict. They can interfere with your bite. They can cause cysts, tumors, periodontal disease and TMJ disorders as well as more common problems like cavities and gum disease. They pose a risk to the molars they are adjacent to. Some people experience significant pain because of complications wisdom teeth create when they erupt.

Not all dentists agree about wisdom teeth. Some advise that they need to come out to avoid potential problems. Other dentists believe that they should be addressed only if problems occur. If you are wondering what you should do about your wisdom teeth, ask your dentist during your next scheduled dental appointment. He can consult your dental x-rays and determine if your wisdom teeth are likely to be a problem for you based on their location and development. With this information you and your dentist can create a plan for dealing with them.