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. According to the Smithsonian Institution, they helped early humans who had a diet of tough-textured foods. 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 American Dental Association. 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 between the ages of 7 to 10, according to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. 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
The Oral Health Foundation reports that 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, says the Cleveland Clinic.
The University of Michigan 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. The Cleveland Clinic notes that some people may not have wisdom teeth at all, or they may never fully erupt.
Reasons for Extraction
A study published in the British Journal of General Practice concludes that 80 percent of individuals 70 years of age or younger need to have their third molars extracted. 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, advises the University of Michigan.
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. Signs of an impacted wisdom tooth include ongoing pain, red and swollen gums and, in some cases, a cyst may even form in the gums, according to the University of Michigan.
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 British Journal of General Practice study. 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. Johns Hopkins Medicine advises that a good rule to follow is to schedule a dentist visit if a permanent tooth has not come in a year after the normal time range. 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.