The wisdom teeth are the last molars to erupt and are located in the very back of the mouth. In about 1 to 2 percent of the population, supernumerary — or extra — wisdom teeth are present. These surprise extra teeth can erupt after the original teeth are extracted. Can wisdom teeth grow back? Not really, but some people have more than just the standard four.
What Are Wisdom Teeth?
Wisdom teeth are the last or often referred to as third molars. They usually erupt in a person's late teens or early twenties. Because this period coincides with the beginning of adulthood are referred to as wisdom teeth.
Scientists and dentists aren't sure why we have wisdom teeth. Because they're usually extracted, the teeth seem like an unnecessary evil. However, according to the Smithsonian Institution, at some point in our evolutionary past, wisdom teeth might have been important to our survival. Humans once ate exceedingly tough, difficult-to-chew food and continue to be prone to tooth decay and gum problems. This susceptibility was especially true for our ancestors, who had yet to learn the importance of oral hygiene. It's likely that many early humans lost several molars due to decay or injury before they reached their late teens. The wisdom teeth could easily move into the empty spaces and allow our distant ancestors to continue to chew their food.
In those days, the third molars could be lifesavers. Today they're considered a vestigial organ, made obsolete by evolution.
What If I Have More than Four Wisdom Teeth?
Whereas most people have four wisdom teeth, some people actually have more or even fewer. If you have more than the typical four, your dentist will probably see these teeth on digital X-rays. The chances that you'll have extra wisdom teeth are fairly slim. About one or two people in every 100 will face this dilemma. Supernumerary teeth can occur elsewhere in the mouth, too. It's possible to have extra incisors, canines and other duplicate molars.
Why Are Most Wisdom Teeth Pulled?
By the time the third molars arrive, there is typically no longer enough room in the jaw to accommodate them. Many wisdom teeth try to move into position but can't because other teeth are in the way. It's also common for wisdom teeth to be aligned horizontally in the jaw or to be otherwise misplaced. In this type of situation, they can't emerge from the jawbone, and they become impacted.
If you have an impacted wisdom tooth, it's important to see your dentist as soon as possible. Symptoms of impaction include the following:
- Stiffness or pain in the jaw.
- Swelling, inflammation and infection of gum tissue.
- A partially erupted tooth that is painful or sensitive.
If the tooth coming in is irritating parts of your mouth or causing other teeth to move out of position, this is a sign that you should have it removed. Some dentists recommend removal long before the tooth begins to erupt. This decision is based on X-rays that show where and how the wisdom tooth is positioned.
Can wisdom teeth grow back, then? Although the condition is rare, it is possible to have more than the usual four wisdom teeth. If you do have extra third molars, you'll probably require additional extractions after the first set has been removed.