Who Said Wisdom Teeth are Wise?

General Dentistry, Santa Ana, CAWhoever coined the term “wisdom teeth” wasn’t a dentist. This third set of molars is a leftover from our prehistoric ancestors and basically only cause trouble in modern times. Fortunately, Dr. Fong and his team will take out your caveman teeth before they can do much damage to the rest of your smile.

What are wisdom teeth?

Vestigial organs — that’s what anthropologists call things like your appendix, your tailbone, and your wisdom teeth. These organs are no longer of any use for modern humans: they’re a relic of our prehistoric past.

Back when mastodons were stomping on us, it made sense to have a third set of molars. Our diets consisted of leaves, roots, nuts, and some very tough meat. All of this required far greater chewing power and caused greater wear and tear on our teeth. To make room for this extra set of molars, prehistoric jaws were longer than our current model.

Fast-forward to today, aged filet mignon and tiramisu are a little easier to chew, and our wisdom teeth are no longer needed. No one told them, however, and they still try and make their way down into our mouths. These are the ages when the three sets of molars generally come in: the first set erupts around age six, the second set at age 12, and the third set (wisdom teeth) somewhere between the ages of 17 and 25. That’s where the “wisdom” moniker comes from, as by that age, hopefully, we are a little bit smarter than our younger days.

Why do I have to get my wisdom teeth pulled?

We can get away with our tailbone and appendix, but the arrival of our wisdom teeth is invariably bad news. If we still had longer jaws everything would be fine, but our modern shorter jaw length means there isn’t any room for a third set of molars. So, when your wisdom teeth come down they become impacted (blocked) by the other teeth. They can come in sideways, pushing on the adjacent teeth. They sometimes are surrounded by bone. Often one wisdom tooth will partially erupt, creating pockets in the gums that are perfect places for bacteria to thrive.

Although you may know someone who has their erupted wisdom teeth in place, people like that are very, very rare. Others seem to never have had their wisdom teeth come down and cause havoc. Those few are evolutionarily advanced! For the rest of us, the wisdom teeth simply cause the other teeth to be pushed out of position and other dental issues, and they need to be extracted.

When should my wisdom teeth come out?

Waiting is not good in the case of your wisdom teeth. They may erupt all the way until around age 25, but you should be proactive with these prehistoric relics. Why? When a teenager is between the ages of 15 and 18 his or her wisdom tooth roots are only two-thirds formed, making this the perfect time to yank them out. Wait until their 20s and extraction will become more involved.

We’ll keep an eye on your wisdom teeth during your yearly x-rays at your cleanings and exams. When the time comes, Dr. Fong can take out those prehistoric molars. Call us for your next appointment, (714) 549-1903.

Posted in: General Dentistry

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