Let’s talk about wisdom teeth.

This third set of molars doesn’t seem all that “wise” to most of us. After all, wisdom teeth are no longer needed thanks to our modern diet—and they can cause some serious pain and damage when problematic.

Like the appendix, we’re stuck with this vestige of our ancestry. But unlike that body part, wisdom teeth often need to come out to protect your oral health. Here are a few important things to know:

Why do we have wisdom teeth?

Anthropologists believe our cave dweller ancestors, who lived primarily on raw roots, leaves, meats, and nuts, needed these flatter molars to grind down food. But while our diets and the way we eat have evolved–we’ve got knives and forks to cut our food into manageable bites—so did our jawline. Most of us don’t have room in our mouths to fit wisdom teeth, at least comfortably!

Does everyone have them?

The majority of adults get four wisdom teeth behind the first and second set of molars, but it’s also possible to have less than four, over four, or no wisdom teeth at all.

When do wisdom teeth come in?

Wisdom teeth erupt when children are older — and presumably wiser (hence the name). They typically can be seen via x-ray when still below the gumline, usually when a patient is about 12 years old. During regular checkups and cleanings, our team at CNS Dental will monitor the stages of your wisdom teeth, but patients can expect to see or feel wisdom teeth try to find the surface of your gums between ages 17 and 25.

Do my wisdom teeth have to be removed?

No. If wisdom teeth grow in completely and remain free from cavities and pain, we won’t recommend removing them. However, they will still need to be monitored closely during exams, cleanings, and through x-rays.

How do I know if my wisdom teeth should be removed?

According to the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, about 85 percent of wisdom teeth will need to be removed. At CNS Dental, our team will recommend removal of wisdom teeth when they:

  • Only partially erupt
  • Don’t have room to erupt
  • Are impacted
  • Cause jaw pain
  • Contribute to crowding of other teeth
  • Move other teeth out of alignment
  • Grow in sideways or tilted forward
  • Cause tooth decay or infections
What does it mean if my wisdom teeth are “impacted”?

If our team at CNS discovers your wisdom teeth are impacted, it means this set of teeth is trapped where there is no room, crowding the rest of your teeth. This often happens when the wisdom teeth grow in at an angle, flat on their sides, or get stuck within the jawbone and don’t fully erupt. The result? Pressure and pain, damage to nearby teeth or bones, and/or bacterial growth.

When should I have my wisdom teeth removed?

During your regular checkups at CNS, we’ll check your X-rays and examine your mouth to determine if and when your wisdom teeth should be removed. We typically recommend impacted wisdom teeth be removed when the roots are between one-third and two-thirds formed. Waiting longer increases the risk of injury to the nerves and sinuses. In terms of ideal age, we believe it’s always best to have wisdom teeth removed earlier (late teens to early 20s) rather than later in life. After 35, oral surgeries bring on more complications. The roots of our teeth form more fully as we age, making extractions tougher, and the jaw has less vascularity, so healing takes longer.

Who do I see for removal of my wisdom teeth?

While we don’t perform oral surgeries at CNS, we have a network of highly qualified surgeons in the area to refer you for wisdom teeth removal. Your oral surgeon will walk you through the process, including pre- and post-surgery procedures, and aftercare.

Need to know more about wisdom teeth – either yours or your child’s? We’re here to help…talk to us at your next visit!