While most people don’t remember much about when their baby teeth were replaced by permanent teeth, most adults do 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 start growing in.
What are wisdom teeth, and why do we grow them?
Wisdom teeth are a vestige of our ancestors' early needs when it came to diet. Back then, humans were eating coarser, tougher foods (roots, nuts, leaves and meat, for instance), and therefore required more chewing power.
These days, our diets are made up of much softer foods in general, and we have forks and knives to make the eating and chewing process easier on us. In combination, these factors have made wisdom teeth largely obsolete.
In short, evolutionary biologists have classed wisdom teeth as vestigial organs, meaning they’ve lost their function during the process of evolution.
When do wisdom teeth need to be extracted?
When wisdom teeth grow in healthy and correctly aligned, it’s fine to leave them be (it can’t hurt to have a little extra chewing power!). However, they very often come in misaligned, which can be a problem.
Misaligned wisdom teeth can come in completely horizontally, at an angle toward or away from the 2nd molars, or at an inward or outward angle. These types of misalignment issues can cause crowding, or damage to the other teeth, the jawbone, or the nerves of the mouth.
Wisdom teeth can also be impacted. This means that they form completely or partially enclosed in the gum tissue or jawbone. This leaves an opening for bacteria to enter, and can result in pain, swelling, tooth decay and infection.
In all of the above cases, the wisdom teeth need to be removed.