Most wisdom teeth erupt at age 17 to 25. These are the last teeth to erupt in the mouth, and because this is generally adulthood, they are called “wisdom teeth.” The dental term for them is third molars (the first molars come in at age 6 and the second molars come in at age 12). Some people have no problems with their wisdom teeth and do fine with them. However, most people find that their mouths don’t quite have enough space for all those teeth.

So what happens when wisdom teeth try to erupt and don’t have enough room? One possibility is that they stay fully impacted and can’t break through at all. These teeth can lay dormant for the rest of one’s life, or some problems can develop within the fluid-filled sac that the tooth is encased in. Removal of these teeth gets much more difficult and complicated as one gets older, and bones become more brittle and take longer to heal. Another possibility is that the teeth only partially erupt, causing an opening of the sac into the oral environment. This can cause pain, infection and swelling. These teeth will have to be removed if they never fully erupt.

Another possibility is that the teeth force their way in and cause crowding. The other teeth “make way” and squeeze together causing malalignment, making it difficult for a person to keep their teeth clean. The plaque that collects on the posterior teeth can cause decay and periodontal disease to develop, not just around the wisdom teeth, but around the other teeth as well.

Not everyone has wisdom teeth, and some people have one or more but not all four. Some may have ample room for these teeth to come in, while others do not. So rather than saying that everyone should have them removed, we recommend consulting with a dentist to determine which ones should stay and which ones should go. A dentist can take a panoramic x-ray, which shows all the teeth and their relationship to the jawbone and temporomandibular joint (TMJ). If the dentist recommends extraction, this should be done earlier rather than later. As mentioned before, the surgery becomes more difficult as a person ages. So use “wisdom” when the third molars come in! Have them checked by your dentist.

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