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Wisdom teeth: What are they and why do we remove them?

Your wisdom teeth are the third of the three sets of molars in the back of your mouth, and the ones that sit farthest to the back. They are the last of your teeth to come in – numbers 29, 30, 31 and 32 – and they erupt between ages 17 and 21, when you’re supposed to be moving from a kid to a young adult, hence the nickname “wisdom teeth.”

Popular thinking is that the early jaw was longer and could support 32 teeth, but as our faces got smaller over time, the number of teeth we developed did not.

Today, our mouths are perfectly suited for 28 teeth, which is what you have until your wisdoms come in. While we have no conclusive evidence of this, we believe these extra teeth arrive at this time because it’s the natural time a child is sent out into the world to fend for him/herself. Wisdom teeth are the creator’s or nature’s or Darwin’s or the Lord’s way of giving young people a bit of extra help in the big bad world.

Do wisdom teeth have to be removed?
No. In fact, some people’s wisdom teeth come in perfectly normal and there’s no reason to do anything. They are just like regular molars.

The problem is that, because they’re last, there’s often not enough room for them to come in properly. This lack of room could cause them to erupt on an angle.

To understand what that means, imagine trying to squeeze yourself through a small door opening. You could exhale deeply to make yourself smaller. You could contort your body to fit the opening. And if you were really ambitious you could remove the door. Your wisdom tooth can’t do any of those things.

All it can do is knock the door down and push its way through, which is what it does. And if it means getting stuck in the door-frame, then so be it – except that this puts tremendous and unnecessary pressure on your gums and jawline, which could lead to serious complications.

Another possibility is that the wisdom tooth becomes partially impacted, which means more of the tooth sits below the gum line. The problem here is that it leaves an opening in the gum line for bacteria to seep into and cause damage and infection.

For those reasons and many more, your dentist may recommend that they be removed. It’s a relatively simple procedure with no lasting effects on your ability to chew food or smile.

What’s the recovery process?
This depends on how many of your four wisdom teeth are being removed and various other factor. Generally three days of rest, a soft diet, medication, and ice cream whenever you want will do the trick.

How will you know if your wisdom teeth need removing?
Sometimes, they’re very painful in your mouth and you’ll have a feeling they need to be removed. Other times, you won’t feel them at all, but a quick look at your next appointment is all we’ll need.