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A Guide to Wisdom Teeth: What They Are, Why We Recommend Removal

Wisdom teeth are the third set of molars most people develop between the ages of 17 and 21. Some lucky people never develop them. Others develop wisdom teeth but don’t experience many problems. It’s never too late to remove them and there are usually benefits to doing so. But what exactly are wisdom teeth? Why do we have them? Why do most family dentists recommend having them surgically removed?

What Are Wisdom Teeth?

Your smile has many types of teeth that can be categorized according to placement and function. Some are sharp — designed for tearing food. Others are flat — designed for grinding food to a pulp. Wisdom teeth are molars that are flat and meant for chewing rather than biting. Located on the back of your mouth, molars are located in 3 sets at the top and bottom on both sides of your mouth.

Wisdom teeth tend to be the last set of adult teeth to come in — hence the name. You are theoretically “wiser.” The funny thing is in modern evolutionary terms, wisdom teeth make no sense at all — they actually can be a problem.

Big Brains, Smaller Mouths — Less Room for Wisdom Teeth

Scientists suspect that our jaws have gotten smaller over time — perhaps to accommodate our growing brains. (So yes, it is because you’re so smart, or at least because people in general have evolved to have bigger brains.)

But all that brain room means a smaller jaw — which means less room to accommodate the teeth we are still biologically programmed to grow. There are 4 wisdom teeth in total — 2 on the top, 2 on the bottom. People can end up developing zero wisdom teeth to all 4 — it’s just a roll of the genetics dice.

Why Should Wisdom Teeth Be Removed?

Most people’s jaws stop growing when they are 18. Most people’s wisdom teeth come in around 19.5 years, but it can vary. There usually isn’t enough room — and this can cause problems. They can cause your other teeth to be crowded, even grow crooked. This can result in jaw pain and increase your risk for tooth decay. Cysts can develop under the gums, as well as tumors.

That’s why we take a look at our teenage Cincinnati patients and do a diagnosis. It’s usually best to have the teeth removed when people are young — when before roots and bone have fully formed. If wisdom teeth are removed before they are fully grown in, healing and recovery are much easier.

It’s Never Too Late

And while it’s best to have your wisdom teeth removed while they are still developing — it’s never too late. The surgery can be more invasive and healing can be more difficult — but removing wisdom teeth at any age can reduce your risk for cavities, overcrowding, and other oral health problems.

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