Impacted wisdom teeth

As if early adulthood wasn’t already a tricky enough time: Wisdom teeth, or third molars, usually erupt when a person is between 17 and 24 years old.

Impacted wisdom teeth occur when one or more of your third molars have no room to enter the arch, are misaligned, or are growing at an angle that keeps them from fully erupting.

Learn how wisdom teeth can cause problems even from within – and why prehistoric humans are to blame for it all.

1. Why are wisdom teeth removed?

You might think that while they're hidden under the surface of your gums, wisdom teeth are safe from disease and can do little harm. Unfortunately that is not the case.

Third molars can get cavities, abscesses, gum disease, cysts and can damage adjacent teeth when they are impacted. As a preventative measure, many people have their wisdom teeth removed before these problems arise.

Although fewer dentists are recommending extraction in all cases, the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons recommends that wisdom teeth in all young adults be evaluated for extraction or ongoing care.

2. Why are impacted wisdom teeth so common?

Evolution holds the answer:

  • Before humans cooked their food, we subsisted mostly on plants, nuts and seeds. In those times, wisdom teeth proved useful for grinding down the harder foods
  • Evolutionists believe humans had larger jaws because of the extra chewing, and there was ample room for the third molars to erupt and find their place in the dental arch. After our diets changed, our jaws started shrinking to adapt
  • Today, most people have much less room in their jaw for the third molars to work their way out, thus causing pain and problems

3. Which type of wisdom tooth sufferer are you?

  • Some people get only one or two of their wisdom teeth, while some don't grow any at all
  • Others, for various reasons, have no problems with wisdom teeth crowding or impacting their other teeth, and can keep their wisdom teeth for their lifetimes

Deep impact: the final word

Even though wisdom teeth do not always require extraction, they can still be vulnerable to tooth decay. So check with your dentist frequently to ensure they remain free of disease and decay.

Original content by Wendy J. Woudstra