The wisdom teeth, or third molars, typically begin to develop in the preteen years and erupt sometime between the ages of 17 and 25. In fact, that’s how how these molars earned their nickname, as this is the time of life when young people are said to become wiser.
But not everyone has all their wisdom teeth by their 25th birthday. Why is that?
Some People Simply Don’t Have Wisdom Teeth
For our early ancestors, having 32 teeth was a definite advantage, as they needed the ability to chew tough leaves, roots and raw meat.
Once man started cooking, however, we didn’t really need all of those teeth anymore. Instead, we needed larger brains. Consequently, our skull structures have changed over time, with the jaw evolving to become narrower.
Today, as many as 35 percent of us, according to expert estimates, never develop the third molars at all. Some scientists believe that the third molars may eventually disappear completely.
Wisdom Teeth Sometimes Erupt Late in Life
The fact that your third molars haven’t come in by age 25 doesn’t necessarily mean that they won’t later, though. For some patients, these teeth can emerge much later in life.
Scientists have yet to be able to explain why this happens, but a wisdom tooth can arrive years or even decades after the usual time frame. Many dentists and oral surgeons tell stories of patients in their 50s, 60s or even older whose third molars are just beginning to erupt.
They don’t necessarily all come in together, either.
Your Wisdom Teeth Could Be Impacted
If your third molars haven’t appeared by your early 20s, they could come in later, or they may never appear at all.
But a third, more likely possibility is that your wisdom teeth are impacted. In other words, your jaw doesn’t have enough room for them to erupt, so the teeth become trapped below the gumline.
The American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons says that nine out of 10 people have at least one impacted wisdom tooth. When a tooth can’t come in, it may grow at an angle and damage the nearby healthy teeth.
Fluid-filled tumors can also develop, leading to bone and facial nerve damage. And although some people experience no symptoms from impacted teeth, many have severe pain as well as swelling and bleeding in the gums.
Impacted third molars should be removed as soon as possible to avoid these and other serious dental complications. Our oral surgeons recommend that all young adults have a wisdom tooth exam and evaluation to determine the status of these potentially serious risk factors.
Extraction is sometimes advised as a preventive health measure, even if the teeth are not impacted.
For a professional consultation and evaluation of your oral health, trust the experienced team at Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery of Utah. We have office locations in Toole, South Jordan and Cottonwood Heights. Contact us today to learn more strategies for taking care of your wisdom teeth.