It may seem as though everyone gets their wisdom teeth removed these days. But at what age do wisdom teeth come in? And is it sage advice to always remove them? Knowing when you can expect to see signs of wisdom tooth eruption and understanding the reasons why these teeth might be removed can help you prepare for conversations with your dentist.
Purpose of Wisdom Teeth
Your wisdom teeth are meant to help you chew more easily. It is said they helped early humans grind and chew foods that were raw and hard to tear. Human jaws were once wider and could accommodate these final molars, but today, jaws are smaller, sometimes leaving less room for the final molars to erupt.
What Age Do Wisdom Teeth Come In?
Third molars — aka wisdom teeth — are the final permanent teeth to erupt, reports the Canadian Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons. There are a total of four that sprout in the very back of your mouth, and you'll most likely see them come in between the ages of 17 and 21.
While they may not erupt until early adulthood, wisdom teeth begin forming much earlier — usually by the age of nine — and can start as early as age five, according to University of Saskatchewan Research. First, the tooth calcifies, after which the crown begins to form. Then, the root develops and, finally, the teeth emerge through the gums. This entire process can take several years and the timing can vary widely, which makes wisdom teeth unique from other permanent teeth, as noted in a study published in Imaging Science in Dentistry. The study also found that the upper molars typically come in first, and men may see their wisdom teeth appear slightly earlier than women.
Signs of Eruption
As wisdom teeth erupt, you can expect minor discomfort that will go away once the tooth has fully emerged. Some people may experience no symptoms at all, while others experience soreness or pain, which can be usually be relieved with over-the-counter pain relievers or by gently swishing warm salt water in the mouth. But lingering pain, the feeling of pressure in your back jaw or gum swelling in the area could point to problems with eruption.
Health Link BC reports that the most common time for problems or pain to emerge is between the ages of 15 to 25, and most people don't have difficulty with wisdom teeth after they're 30. Some people may not have all their wisdom teeth, or they not grow in properly and remain impacted.
Reasons for Extraction
Though Canadian statistics on third molar impaction and extraction are lacking, the Journals of the Canadian Dental Association estimated seven million Canadians with impacted third molars may have undergone extraction surgery from 2007-2011. There are many reasons your dentist may advise an extraction. Even if you or your child's third molars are coming in straight and don't seem to pose a problem, your dentist may recommend extraction to prevent problems down the line. Wisdom teeth can crowd the mouth and make it harder to clean, which can lead to plaque buildup, decay or gum disease, notes Health Link BC.
A common reason to extract the tooth is because it's impacted, meaning that the tooth is unable to break through the gums. This situation can cause increased pain, swelling and infection. An impacted wisdom tooth can crowd other teeth and create painful, swollen, and infected flaps in your gums and in some cases a cyst can form that can damage the roots according to My Health Alberta.
If you don't realize your wisdom teeth may be a problem or if you ignore your dentist's recommendation of removal, pericoronitis, an infection in the tissues surrounding a partially emerged tooth can develop according to the Canadian Dental Association. In rare cases, nearby tooth roots can be damaged, and tumors can also result.
When to Consult Your Dentist
If you and your teen are maintaining your regular dental appointments, you'll be in good stead to track that the wisdom teeth are erupting healthily or catch if they need intervention. Starting when your child enters their teen years, begin a discussion about wisdom teeth with their dentist. According to the Journals of the Canadian Dental Association, if a permanent tooth has not come in a year after the normal time range it is considered delayed. You may want to schedule a dentist visit. It's always best to monitor wisdom tooth development through this crucial time period to help avoid any unnecessary pain and inconvenience and to ensure optimal oral health.