Wisdom teeth are your third molars. They’re the last teeth to form but we often see them on an x-ray, starting to develop around the age of ten to twelve or even earlier. But wisdom teeth usually don’t start trying to come in until the age of sixteen or later. So let’s talk about wisdom teeth.
Wisdom teeth had a lot more room to come in for us humans when our lives were very different. We ate rougher foods and our jaws developed to be bigger. Wisdom teeth made a lot more sense in the past than they do now. We live differently than our ancestors and our teeth haven’t quite caught up. Now of course people are concerned about wisdom teeth pushing from the back and moving their nice straight teeth after braces.
I have some good news and some not-so-good news on that.
I think the evidence is that wisdom teeth don’t cause the teeth to crowd up anymore. The not-so-good news is that crowding can happen anyway, whether you’ve had braces or not. And whether your wisdom teeth are taken out or not. So it’s not a case of getting your wisdom teeth out and thinking your teeth will stay nice and straight without the retainers. I wish it were that simple. Teeth never stop moving, with or without your wisdom teeth.
Now some people are actually missing some or all of their wisdom teeth – about 5 % of us are missing at least one adult tooth and a wisdom tooth is the most common tooth to be missing. And if you’re missing one tooth, it’s more likely that you’re missing more. I have seen someone who is missing one, two, three, or all of their wisdom teeth! So no issues.
But by far most of us have our wisdom teeth. Now you may think you’re missing your wisdom teeth because they’re sitting underneath the gums at the back – out of sight out of mind. But they’ll show up in an x-ray if it shows the area in the back where those wisdom teeth are hiding.
The fact is most of us have to think about our wisdom teeth eventually.
Our first adult molars come in around the age of six or seven, the second molars come in around the age of eleven or twelve, and the third molars, or wisdom teeth, anywhere from sixteen years old to never, if there isn’t enough room and they get stuck in the gum and bone behind those second molars. When the tooth is stuck in the bone it’s impacted. The wisdom teeth can become a problem at an earlier age if they get in the way of the second molars.
The second and third molars can kind of fight for space back there and they can both get stuck in the bone. When this happens we may have to get the wisdom teeth out at an early age, as young as twelve or thirteen – to let those second molars come in. This happens, but it’s not that common. Usually, all the teeth are in, except the wisdom teeth stuck in the gum and bone behind those second molars. The wisdom tooth can be completely under the gum or it can come in halfway with a flap of gum covering it at the back.
For most people, there is just not enough room at the back of the mouth for the wisdom teeth to come in to become useful and productive members of society. There is just no way that those wisdom teeth are going to come in properly. For most people, it makes the best sense to have these teeth taken out. Wisdom teeth can start causing problems with infections, pain, and discomfort in the teens or later.
Now in some cases, the wisdom teeth will just sit there causing no problems – until they do. And no one knows when they will start to cause problems. You might think that if it isn’t broken you’re not going to fix it. That can make good sense until a wisdom tooth does start really bothering you and now you have to schedule their removal when you’re busy at school, starting a new job, or getting married.
If you ask a hundred dentists about wisdom teeth, you’ll get a hundred different slightly different opinions.
I know my own opinion has changed over the years. I love never taking out any teeth and I take out fewer and fewer teeth to make room for orthodontic treatment and I love the results – big and broader, healthier-looking smiles. But wisdom teeth are in a different category. The space for them is all about the ultimate size of the jaws at the back and by the late teens, we have a good idea whether or not the wisdom teeth can be useful and healthy teeth for you.
I used to lean toward taking out the wisdom teeth when they’re causing you problems – I’m now leaning more toward getting them out sooner – when it’s obvious they can’t be useful teeth. Scheduling the removal of your wisdom teeth at a time that works best for you and your life can make a lot of sense – avoiding some major hassles later on.
Another factor to consider is that extracting the wisdom teeth when you’re younger can lead to better healing and fewer complications. A study has shown that girls in particular benefit from earlier removal of wisdom teeth compared to later – fewer complications – better healing. Before the age of twenty can be a helpful time for women in particular.
Every situation is different and we’re happy to give you the information to help you figure out what makes the most sense for you and your mouth! And don’t hesitate to talk to your dentist about your wisdom teeth as well. Your dentist knows you best, but I’m happy to give you my thoughts on your wisdom teeth.
If you have any questions, you can feel free to leave a comment below.