While most adults struggle to remember when their baby teeth fell out and their permanent teeth erupted for the first time, most 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 have them?
Wisdom teeth are likely a vestige of our early ancestors' dietary needs. Early humans ate coarser, tougher foods (roots, nuts, leaves and meat, for instance) than we do today, which required more chewing power.
These days, our diets are made up of far more soft, cooked food, and we have the added support of forks and knives to make the eating and chewing process easier on us. As a result, wisdom teeth have become largely obsolete.
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?
Healthy and properly aligned wisdom teeth do not present a problem for most people, and it’s fine to leave them be. However, when they come in misaligned, which is very common, it 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.