Why Do We Have Wisdom Teeth and What Situations Warrant Their Removal?

Wisdom teeth – the third molars located in the very back of your mouth – are the last of all teeth to emerge through the gum line, and typically come in between the ages of 17 and 25 when people are entering adulthood and thought to be growing wiser (hence the name “wisdom teeth”).

While many dental professionals recommend having your wisdom teeth removed as soon as they come in just to prevent complications down the road, it’s not always necessary. In fact, one study found that of the estimated 10 million wisdom teeth removed from five million people each year, as many as 60 percent did not actually need to be removed.

If you believe or have been told you should have your wisdom teeth pulled, it’s important to understand why we have these teeth in the first place as well as the various problems/circumstances that may require their removal. Here’s a brief overview of what you need to know.

What’s the Purpose of Wisdom Teeth?

By the time they reach 18, most people (95 percent) in the U.S. have one or more erupted wisdom tooth; however the likelihood of these teeth being healthy and functional is slim to none. But if these third molars serve little to no purpose for millions of people, why do we have them at all?

It is believed our early human ancestors required this third, extra row of molars to chew their particularly coarse diet, which consisted primarily of hard nuts, roots and uncooked meats. Today, human diets not only consist of softer foods, but most of the cutting work is done by cutlery. Human jawbones have also become significantly smaller over time, leaving many people with no room to accommodate these extra teeth and no choice but to have them surgically removed.

When Is Wisdom Teeth Removal Necessary?

If your wisdom teeth are healthy, fully emerged, properly positioned and capable of being cleaned/maintained in accordance with daily best hygiene practices, you probably won’t need to have them removed. However, if any of the following problems are discovered, it is highly likely your dentist will recommend having your wisdom teeth extracted:

  • You experience pain in/around the gums surrounding your wisdom teeth.
  • There isn’t enough space in your mouth to accommodate newly erupted wisdom teeth.
  • Your wisdom teeth come in crooked, which could cause all your other, well-aligned teeth to shift and move over time.
  • A cyst (fluid-filled sac) develops around the wisdom teeth, which could potentially destroy surrounding bone and/or tooth roots.
  • The wisdom teeth remain hidden beneath the gums, unable to erupt normally, which can occasionally result in infection or the development of a cyst.
  • The wisdom teeth emerge only partially from the gums, making the area particularly difficult to clean and therefore more susceptible to bacteria, infection, etc.

Expert Wisdom Teeth Removal in Greater Louisville

Deciding whether or not you should have your wisdom teeth removed is not always simple. We encourage you to contact the friendly, compassionate team of dental surgeons at Greater Louisville Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery Associates to schedule an appointment today. We’ll perform an in-depth evaluation of your wisdom teeth, listen carefully to your situation and concerns, answer any questions you may have and thoroughly explain all your options, so you can feel confident you’ve made the decision that’s best for you.