Updated on March 7, 2024
3 min read

What Are Wisdom Teeth?

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What Are Wisdom Teeth? 

Wisdom teeth are the third molars at the back of your mouth. They’re the last set of your adult teeth that grow in and erupt during your late teens or early 20s. 

3d render of jaw with wisdom mesial impaction

Do All People Have Wisdom Teeth?

Not all people develop wisdom teeth in their lifetime. According to one research, about 35.4% of the sample was missing one of their third molars.1 

This means that more people don’t need their wisdom teeth over time. The study concluded and suggested that third molars are becoming more unnecessary nowadays.

What Is the Purpose of Wisdom Teeth?

While wisdom teeth don’t serve a purpose in the modern human body, anthropologists say they benefited our early ancestors. 

Over time, our diets have changed. Humans have evolved and adapted modern diets, which means eating more soft foods. It also meant that humans have developed smaller jaws.2 

There isn’t enough room for wisdom teeth to grow in smaller jaws anymore. This can result in dental crowding in the lower jaw and other dental problems. 

Why Are They Called ‘Wisdom’ Teeth?

Wisdom teeth are the last permanent teeth to erupt into the mouth. Since wisdom teeth grow within the late teens to early twenties, it’s believed that these are the ages when one becomes wise.3

Many Spanish-speaking countries also call wisdom teeth “the teeth of judgment.” 

What Are Impacted Wisdom Teeth?

Impacted wisdom teeth happen when your wisdom teeth don’t grow properly. Dentists can detect impacted wisdom teeth through a dental X-ray.

An impacted wisdom tooth will push the surrounding teeth and gums. If a wisdom tooth pushes a second molar, it can cause damage to the said tooth. 

In this case, wisdom tooth removal is essential to prevent further problems and complications. 

Signs of a Wisdom Tooth Coming in

A few signs indicate whether a wisdom tooth is coming in. These include:

  • Pain around the jaw area
  • Tender and swollen gums
  • Gum infection
  • Small white spots behind your molars
  • Difficulty opening your teeth
  • Food often gets stuck in between teeth
  • Fever
  • Bad breath

Common Issues with Wisdom Teeth

If you fail to undergo wisdom tooth extraction when needed, you may encounter the following problems:

  • Wisdom tooth impaction
  • Gum disease
  • Wisdom tooth infection
  • Overcrowding

When Is Wisdom Teeth Removal Necessary?

You may need your wisdom teeth removed once they cause significant problems. This is usually when your wisdom teeth start affecting the nearby teeth and jaw.4,5 

3d render of jaw with tooth cavity and cyst or abscess

You’ll need a wisdom tooth removal when you develop:

  • Severe pain
  • Cysts
  • Infection
  • Damage to other teeth
  • Tooth decay

A consultation with a dentist or oral surgeon can determine whether you need to undergo wisdom teeth removal. 

More Reading

Summary

Wisdom teeth are the third molar teeth found in the back of your jaw. Not all people develop wisdom teeth, but you’ll need surgery when the wisdom teeth cause dental health problems. 

Delaying treatment can lead to various complications as well. Consulting your dentist or oral surgeon can help determine the best course of treatment.

Last updated on March 7, 2024
6 Sources Cited
Last updated on March 7, 2024
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
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