What are wisdom teeth? Do we all have them? How can I tell if I do? Will I need to get them removed?


While most of us frequently hear the term ‘wisdom teeth,’ we may not actually know much about them. So, what exactly are wisdom teeth and why does it seem like so many people end up getting them removed?


What are they?

Wisdom teeth are the third molars that typically show up in the mouth when you are older, between the ages of 17 and 21. They are the last teeth to come in and are located in the very back of the mouth. Not everyone has wisdom teeth; some people have none, while others have four. And yes, there are cases where an individual has had more than four wisdom teeth. When wisdom teeth erupt, aka come in, correctly and in the right direction, there are usually no issues.


Many times, your wisdom teeth are not noticeable or visible because they are considered ‘impacted.’ Impacted wisdom teeth are teeth that cannot erupt and are thus trapped in your jaw or under your gums.


Do I have them?

If your wisdom teeth have erupted, you will be able to see and feel them within your mouth. If they are impacted, you will need a dentist to confirm their existence. We can do this using an x-ray, which enables us to verify if they are there, see how developed they are, and predict the angle that they will erupt.


The Problem

If there is not enough space in your mouth for the teeth to surface or if they grow in the wrong direction, they can cause significant pain and issues. In both scenarios, the risk for bacterial collection and infection is increased. The wisdom teeth that haven’t come in correctly can impair your flossing capability, trap food, or even damage the other teeth in your mouth. If your wisdom teeth have only partially come in, they can cause pain and swelling of the jaw.


Removing them

Not everyone needs to have their wisdom teeth extracted. The American Dental Association lists these as the symptoms / changes to look for in considering extraction:


  • Pain
  • Infection
  • Cysts
  • Tumors
  • Damage to other teeth
  • Tooth decay
  • Gum disease


There are situations where wisdom teeth removal is not optional, but rather necessary. When the wisdom teeth erupt at the wrong angle, it can really impact the health of the surrounding teeth. Wisdom teeth are not as critical as the second molars, so keeping those second molars in good shape is more important.


Keeping them

If your wisdom teeth come in correctly, they will need continual monitoring. A successful initial eruption does not mean that there will not be issues later.


Wisdom teeth can be difficult to clean properly, and that leads to tooth decay. In the case of tooth decay, extraction of the tooth is recommended since typical tooth decay treatments (filings, root canals, etc.) are not always successful for wisdom teeth. Make sure to floss around your wisdom teeth and visit your dentist regularly.


Whether you are young and haven’t had your wisdom teeth come in, or older with wisdom teeth that have come in, make sure to continue to have regular checkups with your dentist. We monitor your overall dental health, as well as any changes in your mouth!