For plenty of teenagers, scheduling surgery to have their wisdom teeth removed is a rite of passage. But imagine your dentist had some interesting news for you: X-rays revealed that you don't have any wisdom teeth or that you have fewer than the standard four.
Wait a second, you might be thinking, does everyone have wisdom teeth? Not quite. Although more people have wisdom teeth than don't, there are some who are missing at least one of their wisdom teeth. Other people don't have any at all.
How Many People Worldwide Are Missing Wisdom Teeth?
It's difficult to say exactly how many people are missing one or more of their wisdom teeth. A study published in the Dental Research Journal notes that anywhere from 5% to 37% of the population have congenitally missing wisdom teeth, which means the teeth never formed in the first place. Your dentist might also refer to this condition as agenesis of the third molars.
A Harvard University dissertation examined 92 studies that focused on the frequency of wisdom tooth or third molar agenesis. Out of the 63,314 subjects, the rate of third molar agenesis across the world was 22.63%. The dissertation also noted that women were more likely to be missing one or more of their wisdom teeth. Both men and women were more likely to have missing wisdom teeth in the upper jaw compared to the lower jaw.
Why are some people missing wisdom teeth? Researchers don't know for sure, but they believe that genes, chewing function, environmental factors, diet and disease might all play a role, as a study published in PLOS ONE explains.
Is It a Problem If You Don't Have Wisdom Teeth?
If your dentist gives you the news that you're missing one or more of your wisdom teeth, should you worry? Not at all. Some people joke that not having wisdom teeth makes them more highly evolved, as modern people don't need their wisdom teeth for chewing or speaking. If your dentist tells you that you're missing a wisdom tooth or two, you might consider yourself lucky, as you'll either get to skip out on wisdom tooth extraction surgery altogether or will potentially have a less involved procedure if you do need it.
Third Molar Agenesis vs. Impacted Wisdom Teeth
Having impacted wisdom teeth isn't the same as missing wisdom teeth. When your wisdom teeth are impacted, they are stuck in the jaw or gums and can't erupt fully, as the American Dental Association notes. They might stay under the gumline or only partially emerge. Impacted wisdom teeth can be painful and might put you at an increased risk for bacteria build-up or infection in the gums. In other cases, impacted teeth may not be causing any problems and the dentist can monitor them, explains the Mayo Clinic.
The Harvard University dissertation also looked at the number of people who have impacted wisdom teeth around the world. It reviewed 49 studies, with 83,484 subjects, and found that around 24.4% of the population has impacted wisdom teeth.
Do Wisdom Teeth Always Need to Be Removed?
If you aren't so lucky as to be missing some or all of your wisdom teeth, you might be wondering if having them means that surgery is in your future. While it used to be common practice to extract the wisdom teeth even if they weren't causing any problems, a review of studies performed by Cochrane Oral Health suggests that there is insufficient evidence showing whether or not asymptomatic wisdom teeth need to be extracted.
Does everyone have wisdom teeth? No, but whether you do or not, it's up to you and your dentist to decide what's best for the health of your mouth and your overall health. If you're concerned about your wisdom teeth or have any questions about removing them, talk to your dentist. They're available to give you guidance and help you make the decisions that are best for you.