Why Do We Have Wisdom Teeth?

Sometime between ages 17 and 21, most adults will develop their third set of molars. These molars are more commonly called wisdom teeth.
Teeth are categorized by their placement and function. The sharper teeth can tear food into smaller pieces and the flatter teeth grind food down. Wisdom teeth are the flatter kind of teeth, called molars. Molars are all the way in the back of your mouth. Adults get three sets of molars on top and bottom, and on both sides of the mouth.
From infancy through early adolescence, humans develop their first set of teeth, lose them, and get a whole new set again. There’s a brief pause and then again, in early adulthood, the final set of teeth emerge.
They’re called wisdom teeth because they’re the last teeth to emerge. You’re presumably “wiser” when these teeth come in.

How frequently do people get wisdom teeth?

All of the teeth a person will ever have are present at birth, higher up in the skull structure. First, a set of 20 baby teeth erupts and falls out. Then 32 permanent teeth grow in. The first set of molars usually becomes visible at age 6, the second set around 12, and the final set (wisdom teeth) sometime before age 21.
Once essential for an early human diet of roots, leaves, meat, and nuts, wisdom teeth are no longer totally necessary. Today, humans cook food to soften it, and we can cut and crush it with utensils.

Anthropologists believe humans have evolved beyond needing wisdom teeth, so some people may never get any. Wisdom teeth may go the way of the appendix and become completely unnecessary. It wouldn’t be surprising to some researchers if someday nobody had wisdom teeth anymore.
Still, genetics do cause most adults to develop their wisdom teeth. One studyTrusted Source found that at least 53 percent of people had at least one wisdom tooth come in. Men were more likely to have them than women.

However, just because you don’t see all of your wisdom teeth doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Sometimes wisdom teeth don’t ever erupt and won’t ever become visible. An X-ray can confirm if you have wisdom teeth under your gums.

Whether visible or not, wisdom teeth can cause oral health problems. Wisdom teeth that haven’t erupted through the gums are called impacted. Sometimes this causes even more problems than visible wisdom teeth.

Why are wisdom teeth removed?

Humans and our jaws have gotten smaller over time. There are probably a few reasons for this evolutionary progress. Some scientists believe that as the human brain grew bigger over time, the jaw got smaller to accommodate for space.
Our diet and dental needs have also changed drastically. Smaller jaws mean there isn’t always enough room in the mouth for all the teeth we’re supposed to have. There are four wisdom teeth in total, two on top and two on the bottom. People can have any number of wisdom teeth from none to all four.

Most jaws are done growing by the time a person is 18 years old, but most wisdom teeth emerge when a person is around 19.5 years old. Most problems caused by wisdom teeth are due to the fact that they just don’t fit.

Problems associated with wisdom teeth include:

  • crooked teeth
  • crowded teeth
  • wisdom teeth growing in sideways
  • increased tooth decay
  • jaw pain
  • cysts under the gums and possibly tumors

When is it a good idea to have your wisdom teeth pulled?

The decision about whether or not to have wisdom teeth pulled will mainly depend on whether they are already causing trouble or whether it is highly likely that they will in the future. It is important to get answers to the following questions before having any wisdom teeth removed:

• Have your wisdom teeth already caused pain or damage to your jaw or nearby teeth, or is there an increased risk of that happening?
• Are the wisdom teeth preventing the other teeth from developing properly?
• Might the wisdom teeth interfere with other dental or jaw-related treatments that are already planned?
• What risks are associated with surgery?
• Could the wisdom teeth “replace” molars (back teeth) that are missing or badly damaged?

People who have crooked incisors (front teeth) or small jawbones sometimes worry that their teeth may be pushed out of place even more if their wisdom teeth grow out of the gum. But that’s not necessarily the case. The same is true for those people: Their wisdom teeth can be left in if the dentist doesn’t expect them to affect other teeth.

Do I need to remove it?

Wisdom teeth are usually only removed if they cause problems, or are likely to in the future. There are no scientifically proven health benefits of pulling wisdom teeth that don’t cause any problems. What’s more, removing wisdom teeth is usually unpleasant and may cause side effects.

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