Most people know only a few things about wisdom teeth: that they are usually removed, and when they are taken out you look like a chipmunk and get to eat ice cream and milkshakes.
However, there is a lot more to them than that, here are some surprising facts about wisdom teeth:
- Wisdom teeth got their nickname from the age when they typically grow in. Wisdom teeth are actually called third molars. Most people refer to the third molars as wisdom teeth, but where did they get this name? The third molars do not grow out until the dental arch becomes larger, around the age of 17-25, a time also referred to as the “age of wisdom”.
- Most have to be removed. According to the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, an estimated 85% of wisdom teeth will eventually need to be removed. This can be because the teeth are impacted the area is difficult to reach, thus difficult to clean, leading to bacteria and infection.
- Some people are born without wisdom teeth. 35% of the population is born without wisdom teeth. Researchers debate whether this is evolution or culture. Humans no longer need these teeth for survival; however, some researchers have looked into the link between how different cultures use their jaws, and whether or not they have teeth. For example, in parts of East Asia, it’s more common to find people without wisdom teeth.
- Studies are being conducted to prevent their growth. Wisdom teeth are the only teeth not formed in the womb. Because most people opt to have surgery to remove their wisdom teeth, researchers are looking into ways to prevent their growth altogether.
- Wisdom teeth can produce stem cells – Japanese researchers found in 2008 that induced pluripotent stem cells can be harvested from wisdom teeth. Thus, wisdom teeth can be saved for the potential need for stem cells later in life.
- Nine out of ten people have at least one impacted wisdom tooth. When there isn’t enough room for a tooth to enter the mouth fully, it is called “impacted.” If left it may damage neighboring teeth, or become infected due to the difficulty in reaching and cleaning that area of the mouth and gums.
- Diet and dental work may be responsible for impacted wisdom teeth. Early humans had more wear on their teeth due to a tough diet. This damage caused teeth to drift, creating room for the third molars. Anthropologists believe wisdom teeth were able to emerge into the oral cavity at around the same time as the other permanent teeth because of the lack of obstacles. Nowadays, however, diets are a lot easier on teeth. We also have great dental care, such as braces, and retainers, giving us straighter, healthier, and fuller smiles, but not much room for third molars. Thus, wisdom teeth have to wait for the dental arch to grow larger before they emerge if there is room. If there isn’t room, they may be impacted, and need to be removed surgically.
Wisdom teeth removal is a decision that should be made with your family dentist or oral and maxillofacial surgeon. Should you decide to keep your wisdom teeth it is important to carefully clean the area daily, and have the molars examined and x-rayed regularly to ensure tooth and gum health.