Most people don’t remember too much about when their first permanent teeth began to erupt, but most adults definitely remember when their last set of permanent molars – their wisdom teeth – came in! Here, you’ll learn a bit about what to expect when your teen’s wisdom teeth come in.
What are wisdom teeth, and why do we have them?
Wisdom teeth are the final set of permanent molars to grow in. Wisdom teeth typically erupt in the late teens or early 20s.
Wisdom teeth are essentially vestige of our ancestors' early dietary needs. Back then, the foods humans ate were more coarse and tough (roots, nuts, leaves and meat, for instance), and therefore required more chewing power.
Today, our diets are generally made up of much softer foods than what our ancestors subsisted on, and we also have forks and knives to make the eating and chewing process easier. These factors in combination have made wisdom teeth basically obsolete.
Evolutionary biologists have classed wisdom teeth as 'vestigial organs', which means that they’ve lost their usefulness during the process of evolution.
When do wisdom teeth need to be extracted?
When wisdom teeth are healthy and correctly aligned, it’s fine to leave them be (it can’t hurt to have a little extra chewing power!). However, they often come in misaligned, and can be a problem.
Misaligned wisdom teeth can come in completely horizontally, at an inward or outward angle, or at an angle toward or away from the 2nd molars. These types of misalignment issues result in problems like crowding, or damage to the other teeth, the jawbone, and even the nerves of the mouth.
Wisdom teeth may also be impacted. This means that they form fully or partially enclosed in the jawbone or gum tissue. This leaves an opening for bacteria to enter, and can result in swelling, pain, infection, and tooth decay.
In all of the above situations, the wisdom teeth need to be removed.