The third set of molars in the back of your mouth are often referred to as your wisdom teeth, given that these teeth often emerge as we mature into adulthood. While you probably know what wisdom teeth are, you may not know some of the interesting facts below about these late blooming molars.
Get Smart About Your Wisdom Teeth
Wisdom teeth might look and function similar to the rest of your molars, but there are a few key differences that make them unique.
- They do not emerge at the same time of the rest of your adult teeth. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), wisdom teeth typically usually emerge between the ages of 17 and 21 years old.
- Every mouth develops differently. Some people get four wisdom teeth while others have none at all!
It is often the case that wisdom teeth are impacted and need to be removed. This is because they’re positioning is putting pressure on the surrounding teeth which can harm your mouth and overall health.
No Two Mouths are the Same
Some people have 4 wisdom teeth (two on each side), or have 2 (one on each side) and others won’t develop any wisdom teeth at all. Though rare, there are even cases of people having five or six additional wisdom teeth! While our ancestor’s all had their wisdom teeth so they could chew and grind their food better, why do we no longer need them today? Though there has been much debate on this topic, one answer seems to offer a good explanation.
The Princeton Explanation
Princeton University researcher Alan Mann speculates that a random mutation thousands of years ago caused the difference in numbers due to a larger brain evolution which in turn shortened the dental arcade in our jaws. As the jaw got smaller, there was no more room for the third set of molars.
However, since “genes that control the quantity of teeth” evolve separately from genes that control brain development, many people continued to grow their third set of molars. With the pain that came from too many teeth in a too-small jaw, reproduction was halted in some genetic lines, leading to the randomness of mismatched wisdom teeth numbers seen in populations today. It is estimated that 10-25 percent of Americans with European ancestry are missing at least 1 wisdom tooth. For African Americans that number is 11 percent, and 40 percent for Asian Americans. The Inuit, an indigenous group originating from what is now known as Greenland, Canada, and Alaska have the fewest number of wisdom teeth. On average of 45% of their population are missing at least one wisdom tooth.
Why Do They Have to be Removed?
If you have enough room in your jaw for wisdom teeth to grow without putting pressure on the rest of your teeth, then you won’t need to have them removed. When there isn’t enough room though, the teeth can come through the gum in the wrong position, or be stuck under your gums. This is referred to as an impacted tooth or teeth.
When the wisdom teeth become impacted, they cause more than just pain and discomfort. Impacted wisdom teeth are prone to infection and cavities and can harbor bacteria that can travel through the bloodstream and affect other organs in the body (American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons). Overcrowded teeth can also cause both long-term damage to your smile and discomfort.
According to the American Dental Association, your dentist will look for the following signs to determine if you need to have your wisdom teeth removed:
- Damage to nearby teeth
- Gum disease
- Tooth decay
It’s a wise idea to talk to your dentist about your wisdom teeth. Our knowledgeable doctors and staff at Tendercare Dental are always happy to address any questions or concerns you may have about your wisdom teeth. Schedule your next dental appointment at Tendercare Dental today!