Wisdom teeth come in at the very back of our mouth, with one at the end of each row of teeth. They usually don’t develop fully until the ages of 18 to 24, and it is only then that they appear, if they do at all. These teeth are commonly thought of as “trouble makers” because there often isn’t enough space for them and they can cause problems.
Wisdom teeth are thought to date back to our distant ancestors who had larger jaws and more teeth. Nowadays, most people’s jaws are too small for these “extra” teeth. For a while they were almost always pulled, but because they don’t always cause problems, and removing them can have side effects, dentists are now a bit more hesitant.
Wisdom teeth often stay inside the gum, or only partially break through the gum, although they have stopped growing. This can cause pain, swelling or gum inflammations. The wisdom teeth may also damage nearby teeth and increase the likelihood of cavities. In most cases, though, wisdom teeth that don't break through don’t cause any trouble.
The same is true if wisdom teeth break through: Sometimes they have enough space. But they may push against other teeth, come in crooked, and cause inflammations or other complications.
If you are worried about your wisdom teeth it is best to talk to your dentist. They will first ask you about your symptoms and examine your mouth and jaw. An x-ray is taken to see the position of the teeth. This thorough examination can help to predict whether the wisdom teeth will cause problems or will come in normally.
If one or more wisdom teeth start causing problems, they will usually need to be pulled. Depending on whether they have already come into the mouth or are still deeper inside the jaw, surgery may be necessary.
In the past, even wisdom teeth that weren't causing any problems used to be pulled in most cases. But nowadays this is usually only recommended if the teeth are causing problems or it is thought they will.
Deutsche Gesellschaft für Zahn-, Mund- und Kieferheilkunde (DGZMK). S2k-Leitlinie: Operative Entfernung von Weisheitszähnen. AWMF-Register-Nr.: 007-003. December 2012.
Dodson TB, Susarla SM. Impacted wisdom teeth. BMJ Clin Evid 2014.
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