The third set of molars in the back of your mouth is often referred to as your wisdom teeth. The name fits given that these teeth often emerge as we mature into adulthood. While you may know what they are, you may not know some of the interesting facts below about these late blooming molars.
Get Smart About Your Wisdom Teeth
Wisdom teeth might look and function similar to the rest of your molars, but there are a few key differences that make them unique.
- They do not emerge at the same time of the rest of your adult teeth. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), wisdom teeth typically usually emerge between the ages of 17 and 21 years old.
- Every mouth develops differently. Some people get four wisdom teeth while others have none at all!
It is often the case that wisdom teeth are impacted and need to be removed. This is because they’re positioning is putting pressure on the surrounding teeth which can harm your mouth and overall health.
No Two Mouths are the Same
Some people have four wisdom teeth (two on each side), or have two (one on each side) and others won’t have any at all. Though rare, there are even cases of people having five or six additional wisdom teeth! Our ancestor’s had wisdom teeth so they could break down food better, so why don’t we need them today? Though there has been much debate on this topic, one answer seems to offer a good explanation.
The Princeton Explanation
Princeton University researcher Alan Mann speculates that a random mutation thousands of years ago caused the difference in numbers due to a larger brain evolution which in turn shortened the dental arcade in our jaws. As the jaw gets smaller, there is less room for the third set of molars.
However, since “genes that control the quantity of teeth” evolve separately from genes that control brain development, many continue to grow their third set of molars. With the pain that comes from too many teeth in a too-small jaw, reproduction was halted in some genetic lines. This lead to the randomness of mismatched wisdom teeth numbers seen in populations today. Estimates indicate that 10-25 percent of Americans with European ancestry are missing at least one wisdom tooth. For African Americans that number is 11 percent, and 40 percent for Asian Americans. The Inuit, an indigenous group from what is now Greenland, Canada, and Alaska have the fewest number of wisdom teeth. On average of 45% of their population are missing at least one wisdom tooth.
Why Do We Remove Them?
If your jaw is large enough to accommodate wisdom teeth without putting pressure on other teeth, then removal is not needed. When there isn’t enough room, teeth can grow through the gum in the wrong position, or get become stuck under your gums. This is known as an impacted tooth or teeth.
When the wisdom teeth become impacted, they cause more than just pain and discomfort. Impacted wisdom teeth are prone to infection and cavities and can harbor bacteria that can travel through the bloodstream and affect other organs in the body (American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons). Overcrowded teeth can also cause both long-term damage to your smile and discomfort.
According to the American Dental Association, your dentist will look for the following signs to determine if you need to have your wisdom teeth removed:
- Damage to nearby teeth
- Gum disease
- Tooth decay
It’s a wise idea to talk to your dentist about your wisdom teeth. Our knowledgeable doctors and staff at Tendercare Dental are always happy to address any questions or concerns you may have about your wisdom teeth. Schedule your next dental appointment at Tendercare Dental today!