Wisdom Teeth: Not as Smart as They Sound

Wisdom teeth are notorious tooth troublemakers! Why are they so badly behaved that 85% of people need to have their wisdom teeth extracted in their lifetime?

That’s right, 85%! Indeed, even the absence of negative symptoms doesn’t mean that your wisdom teeth are healthy; less than 2% of those 65 years and older are able to maintain their wisdom teeth cavity and disease free.

What are wisdom teeth?

Wisdom teeth are just like your other permanent teeth, except they’re a little late to the party. While permanent teeth will erupt between the ages of 6 and 13, wisdom teeth typically come out between the ages of 17 and 25.

They can erupt much later than that, too. The great Greek philosopher Aristotle even wrote about women whose wisdom teeth were coming through at the tender, young age of 80. For some, they never erupt at all.

Their name, in case you were wondering, comes from the fact they you are supposed to be wiser by the time your wisdom teeth erupt. Compared to when you get your permanent teeth, at any rate.

Why do wisdom teeth need to be removed?

Wisdom teeth, also known as your third molars, can cause a number of problems. They can:

  • Crash into your second molars, causing crowding and damage.
  • Cause cavities because it’s hard to clean between the second and third molars.
  • Only partially erupt, and cause inflammation in your gums.
  • Not erupt at all, which can cause the molars above or below to grow too far into your mouth since they don’t have a buddy that stops them.
  • In rare cases, cysts can form around the roots of wisdom teeth.


These are all problems that will need intervention from your dentist. All of this happens because our jaws have become smaller over time: thousands and thousands of years ago, we would probably have ample room to fit all 32 teeth. Now some of us can’t quite fit in the final four.

What to expect when you’re extracting?

Having wisdom teeth removed probably sounds like a scary and invasive surgery, but it really is such a common procedure that you shouldn’t be worried at all.

Wisdom teeth are sometimes so big that you need stitches after removal, though that is far from every time. Your dentist will give you instructions on post-surgery pain management, but over-the-counter options like paracetamol and ibuprofen should be plenty in most cases.

It’s a good idea to avoid applying pressure and stress to the extraction wound. You should be gentle when cleaning your teeth, and be very gentle when rinsing your mouth! In some cases, your dentist may recommend that you switch to a soft diet for a while.

This just means that you should avoid crunchy and chewy foods while your gums heal. Your dentist will be able to detail what changes to make to your diet and when to reintroduce your normal foods.

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