You may not remember too much about when your permanent teeth first started to erupt, but you do likely remember when your last set of permanent molars – your wisdom teeth – came in! Here, you’ll learn a bit more 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 essentially a vestige of our early ancestors' dietary needs. Back then, the foods humans ate were more coarse and tough (roots, nuts, leaves and meat, for instance), and these types of foods required more chewing power.
Our diets today, on the other hand, generally consist of much softer foods than those our ancestors subsisted on. We also have forks and knives to make the eating and chewing process easier. Together, these factors have made wisdom teeth essentially 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?
Wisdom teeth that are healthy and correctly aligned are unnoticeable and don't cause any oral health problems. However, they often come in misaligned, and it can be a problem.
Wisdom teeth can be misaligned in a number of ways. They can come in completely horizontally, at an inward or outward angle, or at an angle toward or away from the 2nd molars. Any of these misalignments may result in dental health problems like crowding, or damage to the other teeth, the jawbone, and even the nerves of the mouth.
Wisdom teeth may also become 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.