What Are Wisdom Teeth - And Why Do We Have Them?
The majority of our teeth grow and develop through childhood. However, one set - wisdom teeth - doesn't typically appear until young adulthood. Wisdom teeth (also often called third molars) are always the last to appear.
All our teeth are actually present from birth, just contained higher up the skull. As we grow, the first set (mostly referred to as our baby teeth) are the first to emerge, eventually falling out through childhood to allow the growth of our adult teeth.
The four main categories of teeth
To better understand wisdom teeth, it's useful to know the different types of teeth in the human mouth. Teeth are categorized into four categories, each with a specific purpose:
Incisor teeth: Incisors are at the front of the mouth, four on the top and bottom. Incisors can be considered your biting teeth and are used mostly to cut food into smaller pieces.
Canine teeth: The canines are positioned directly behind the incisors and are the sharp teeth we typically use to tear or rip at food. There are four canines in both adults and children.
Premolar teeth: Premolars are located just behind the canine teeth and have larger, flatter areas with ridges to aid with chewing food. In children, the premolars normally appear between the ages of 10 and 12.
Molar teeth: Molars are similar to premolars and are also used to chew and grind up food. Adults normally have 12 molars and they appear at different stages of life. Typically, the first set will appear around the age of six with the second set arriving around age 12. The third set - wisdom teeth - using appear in young adulthood.
Not all adults grow wisdom teeth and many anthropologists question whether humans in the future will have them at all. As humans have developed and our diets, culinary tools and how we prepare food has changed, wisdom teeth have become largely unnecessary. Men are more likely to have wisdom teeth than women - however, it is quite possible evolution may one day see them completely disappear.
Wisdom tooth removal - when wisdom teeth cause problems
As they are the last to develop, wisdom teeth often jostle for space in already-congested mouths. It has been proven that through the process of human development our mouths and teeth have become smaller - partly through changes in diet, evolutionary progress and also possibly because our brains became larger. As most of our growing processes are already complete by the time the wisdom teeth arrive, often the jaw simply can't accommodate an extra set of teeth.
In these cases, it is essential for the problematic teeth to be removed - to stop infection or other complications developing. Tooth extraction operations can be quite complex and your dentist will advise how much wisdom teeth removal costs before proceeding with surgery.
The recovery time for dental extractions can take a few days so you should factor in a period of recuperation. You must also follow any instructions your dentist gives you for the recovery process to avoid potential complications later.
It's also worth noting, of all teeth, wisdom teeth are far more likely to cause complications later so many people these days are choosing to have them removed voluntarily. You should consult with your dentist for further advice.