Wisdom teeth – the last set of permanent molars – erupt in the late teens or early 20s for most people. Here, you’ll learn a bit about what to expect when your teen’s wisdom teeth come in.
Why do we have wisdom teeth?
Wisdom teeth are not considered necessary by most dentists today. They are basically a vestige of our ancestors' early dietary needs. The foods early humans ate were more coarse and tough (roots, nuts, leaves and meat, for instance, and often uncooked), and therefore required a lot of chewing power. Wisdom teeth helped with that.
Modern diets today are generally made up of much softer foods than those our ancestors ate. We also have forks and knives to make chewing easier. These factors have made wisdom teeth basically obsolete.
In fact, evolutionary biologists have classed wisdom teeth as 'vestigial organs'. That means that they’ve lost their usefulness during the process of evolution, and are no longer necessary.
Why do wisdom teeth need to be extracted?
When wisdom teeth that are healthy and correctly aligned, they can be left in place. When they come in misaligned, though, dental health probelms can start to occur.
Misaligned wisdom teeth can come in horizontally, or at various angles. These types of misalignments can result in problems like crowding, or damage to the other teeth, the jawbone, and even the nerves of the mouth.
Wisdom teeth can also become impacted. Impacted teeth are fully or partially enclosed in the jawbone or gum tissue, which can leave an opening for bacteria to enter. This can result in swelling, pain, infection, and tooth decay.
As you might imagine, in these kinds of cases it's best (and sometimes necessary) for wisdom teeth to be removed.