Wisdom teeth are the third row of molars and the last ones to develop. They are also perhaps the biggest mystery of the mouth. Why do they exist when many people end up removing them through wisdom tooth extraction? Do they give you a spurt of wisdom when they come out?
If truth be told, we do not really need wisdom teeth. Anthropologists claim that wisdom teeth were the evolutionary answer that enabled our ancestors to chew rough foods, such as leaves, roots, nuts, and meat. However, our diets have changed significantly. We cook most of our foods, which softens them. For this reason, wisdom teeth are primarily considered vestigial organs.
While some don’t grow them at all, many still have to deal with them at some point in their lives. Here are some wisdom teeth fun facts to help you learn more about your mouth.
Why They’re Called Wisdom Teeth
In the 17th century, the third molars were called the “teeth of wisdom.” However, the term changed to “wisdom teeth” in the 19th century. Wisdom teeth develop much later than the other teeth when you reach adulthood, usually between 17 to 25 years of age. It earned its name because they usually develop when a person has matured into adulthood and is considered “wise enough.”
Other sources report that the term “wisdom tooth” has different origins. Some claim that it came from the Dutch who coined the term “verstandskiezen,” which means “far standing tooth”. The word “verstand” in Dutch also translates to mind or wisdom. Still, others associate wisdom teeth with the Latin writing “dens sapientiae”, which literally translates to “wisdom tooth”.
Do We All Have Wisdom Teeth?
Most adults grow 4 wisdom teeth. However, there are people who have less than 4, while others have none at all. Various studies discovered that about a third of people do not grow wisdom teeth even if they reach adulthood. In other cases, some people may have wisdom teeth, but they erupt only partially or never erupt at all.
Because of this, wisdom teeth can cause a variety of dental problems, and in most cases, a wisdom tooth removal may be necessary after they appear
There are several reasons why not all people develop wisdom teeth:
- Genetics – Some studies claim that genetic mutation that occurred thousands of years ago may have played a significant factor in why some people are born without wisdom teeth. If one of your parents lacks or has no third molars, then you may just not have any of them either.
- Ethnicity and Environment – Cultural background and environmental factors may also be the reason why some people do not develop wisdom teeth. Among the different ethnic groups, the Inuits have the fewest wisdom teeth.
Having no wisdom teeth might come as a surprise since the majority of people have them. However, it is perfectly normal if you do not develop wisdom teeth. Dentists can assure you that there is nothing wrong with your oral health. The Dental Research Journal estimated that about 5 to 37% of people are lacking one or more wisdom teeth.
Is It Possible to Get More than 4 Wisdom Teeth?
Normally, adults have 32 permanent teeth while children develop 20 baby teeth. While most adults have 4 or fewer or even no wisdom teeth, some people develop an extra wisdom tooth, which is referred to as “supernumerary” teeth. Although it is rare, a person can have extra teeth in their mouth, a condition called hyperdontia. About 0.15 to 4% of the population can have supernumerary teeth. While it can appear in anyone, the risk of getting it is more prevalent in people with Gardner’s symptoms, Down syndrome and those born with a cleft lip. Additionally, the risk of developing supernumerary teeth is twice as high in adult men than in adult women. Supernumerary teeth can grow anywhere in the dental arch, but they are often permanent, anterior incisors occurring in the upper or maxillary arch. The next most common supernumerary teeth after the maxillary incisors are the maxillary and mandibular (lower arch) 4th molars, which often develop as extra impacted wisdom teeth.
On the other hand, scientists still need to uncover the mystery of hyperdontia. While it is presumed that genes consisting of an autosomal dominant trait with low penetrance can be behind the cause of hyperdontia. Some also claim that environmental factors and overactivity of the dental lamina during tooth development may also be potential causes of developing extra teeth.
How Wisdom Teeth Can Cause Problems
You may think that wisdom teeth are problematic, but they are not inherently bad. The structure of your jaw and alignment of the teeth play a huge factor if your wisdom teeth might be completely fine and not causing any potential problems with the nearby teeth. However, there are many reports that most serious dental problems are caused by these third molars.
Dental studies reported that all molars, especially wisdom teeth, are more vulnerable to dental problems than other types of teeth in your mouth. Compared to your incisors, the surface of the molars has more cracks and fissures, creating a thriving space for bacteria and resulting in decay. Another reason is that they are harder to reach and clean even if you are brushing and flossing your teeth thoroughly. Partially erupted wisdom teeth are the toughest to clean since they are only partially visible in the mouth.
Another serious issue associated with wisdom teeth is that the modern human jaw has gotten smaller in over hundreds of years but many are still growing full sets of third molars. Since the jaw has gotten smaller, leaving less room for our teeth, wisdom teeth can easily become impacted, partially erupted, or blocked by adjacent teeth. Despite the lack of space, these third molars can press against adjacent teeth and affect your bite.
If you notice your wisdom teeth growing and want to be sure that they will not cause a problem, talk to a dentist. Examining your third molars at home can be difficult as they are in the back of your mouth and may not be fully erupted. However, you can use a flashlight and look for the following visual symptoms:
- Swollen gums around the wisdom tooth
- Pain in the jaw
- Bleeding and tenderness of the gums
- Swollen jaw or jaw joint
- White or dark spots present on your wisdom teeth
- Metallic taste in your mouth or bad breath
- Difficulty in chewing, biting, or opening your mouth
Should You Have Your Wisdom Tooth Extracted Immediately?
Dentists will recommend an immediate wisdom teeth removal for partially emerged or impacted wisdom teeth. It is believed that it is more beneficial to have them removed at a younger age before their roots and bones become fully developed and wisdom tooth recovery is generally faster following the extraction procedure. This is one of the reasons that some young adults prefer to have their third molars extracted before they can turn into serious problems and cause painful dental health issues.
Third molar extraction procedure may be highly required if you notice the following changes in the area where your wisdom teeth are:
- Infection symptoms, such as swelling, fever, pus coming from the gum
- Fluid-filled sacs (cysts)
- Damage to nearby teeth
- Gum or periodontal disease
- Extensive tooth decay
As soon as you notice its growth, visit a trusted Etobicoke family dentist for a wisdom tooth removal procedure. Do not wait until your wisdom tooth causes you pain. Delaying the procedure can potentially harm the second molar. Make sure to pay your dentist a visit on a regular basis to ensure a better chance of detecting its growth and removing it on time. During the wisdom tooth extracting procedure, the impacted teeth are extracted and the damaged adjacent tooth is restored. A dental x-ray is used to determine the position and growth of the third molars.
For a trusted family dental clinic in Etobicoke, count on Dr. Mark Rhody Dentistry. Our warm and friendly team of dental professionals provides you and your family with quality care through comprehensive dental services for patients of all ages. Give us a call today at (416) 231-4281 to book an appointment. If you have any inquiries about our wisdom tooth removal procedure and cost, do not hesitate to talk to one of your dental health staff. You can also use our contact form to send us your message and questions.