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Wisdom teeth, also known as third molars, are the teeth that develop in the back of the mouth and often emerge during early adulthood. Most people have all four wisdom teeth, but many have fewer than four. Some have no wisdom teeth at all or have extra wisdom teeth.1, 2
Many people don’t have jaws big enough to accommodate their wisdom teeth. Because of this lack of space, wisdom teeth often become impacted. This means they can’t emerge fully.
This can put uncomfortable pressure on the surrounding teeth. It can also provide a convenient place for bacteria and food debris to accumulate.
As a result, it’s common for people to have their wisdom teeth removed, usually in their late teens or early twenties.
No, wisdom teeth (and teeth in general) don’t grow back after removal. However, it is possible to have more than four wisdom teeth.
Extra teeth, or supernumerary teeth, can appear anywhere in the mouth. This includes behind your second molars (where the wisdom teeth typically are). These teeth can emerge after removal, making it seem like they grew back.
Another possibility is the development of bone spurs. Rather than extra teeth, these are bits of bone that can grow into the spaces where your wisdom teeth were. Bone spurs generally aren’t anything to worry about. They can, however, be removed if they cause pain.
Supernumerary teeth are rare, occurring in around 2 to 3% of people.4, 5 Bone spurs are even rarer. One study found they occurred in less than 1% of cases.6
Because our mouths don’t have much space for wisdom teeth, these teeth often can’t emerge fully. They become impacted, putting us at risk for:
Wisdom teeth are often removed as a precaution before they cause any of these problems.11 Recovery can be more difficult if wisdom teeth are removed later in life.
Some experts recommend more conservative treatments if wisdom teeth aren’t causing any pain and there is enough room in the jaw to accommodate them.12 One treatment option is removing the surrounding gum flap (operculum).
Wisdom teeth, like the other molars, can help us chew food. They can make it easier to break down foods that are difficult to chew, such as:
However, wisdom teeth cannot fully serve this purpose when they lack space to erupt into the mouth.
Since the rise of agriculture, and especially since the Industrial Revolution, impacted wisdom teeth have become more common. And even today, some people have more space for their wisdom teeth than others. This may be due to:
Most adults have at least one wisdom tooth, but there are usually four. Because our jaws often can’t accommodate our wisdom teeth, they may be removed.
While wisdom teeth won’t grow back after removal, it is possible to have more than four wisdom teeth. It’s also possible to develop a bone spur after wisdom tooth extraction.
Talk to your dentist if you have concerns about wisdom teeth, possible extra teeth, or bone spurs.
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