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Wisdom teeth: what are they and why do people get them removed?

17 November · 5 minutes

Many people don’t realize that our mouths are always changing; from when we’re young and losing teeth, to when we’re older and gaining additional teeth, like wisdom teeth. In this article, we’ll dive into what wisdom teeth are, at what age we normally start to see them, and why sometimes they have to be removed.

What are wisdom teeth?

Let’s start with the basics: what are wisdom teeth? Wisdom teeth are the last set of molars in the back of your mouth, also known as third molars. They are the last permanent teeth that come in.

How long it takes for wisdom teeth to grow in is not consistent between people. Regardless of when they come in, wisdom teeth can cause problems for patients that don’t have enough space for them in their oral cavity. When there’s not enough room, wisdom teeth can move the other teeth around and cause crowding or misalignment.

Typically people have four third molars in total: two top wisdom teeth and two on the bottom. But some people are born with no wisdom teeth at all.

Why are they called wisdom teeth?

If you’re wondering why they’re called wisdom teeth, you’re not alone. Not a lot of people know that wisdom teeth get their name from the age at which they come in. They usually start to emerge between 18 and 21 years old, when we’re supposed to have a certain level of maturity or “wisdom.”

Fun fact: many different languages around the world have similar names for third molars.

Why do we have wisdom teeth and what are they used for?

The purpose of wisdom teeth is like your other sets of molars: to help you chew your food. Which explains both why we have wisdom teeth and what they are used for. Historically, these molars were especially helpful for our ancestors to break down hard or raw foods like meat, plants, and roots.

Dentist looks at an X-ray of wisdom teeth in his office

When do wisdom teeth come in?

Like we mentioned before, wisdom teeth tend to appear at the age of 18, approximately, keeping in mind that varies from person to person, and of course, that for some people wisdom teeth never come in at all.

How long does it take for wisdom teeth to come in?

How long it takes for wisdom teeth to grow or come all the way in, also varies person to person. Some people will notice both their top and bottom wisdom teeth growing in at the same time, whereas others might only see one or two. It can take months, even years for the molars to grow in all the way. A lot of people experience discomfort when their wisdom teeth start to erupt. If this is the case for you, we recommend that you see a general dentist who will assess your wisdom teeth and let you know whether your third molars have enough space to grow in correctly, or if they’ll need to be extracted.

What are the first signs and symptoms of wisdom teeth coming in?

If you think your wisdom teeth might be coming in, it’s important to know the first signs and symptoms. When there’s not enough room for the incoming tooth, you’ll probably notice red or swollen gums, bleeding, and pain in the area or throughout the jaw even causing headaches.

Regardless of whether or not you experience these symptoms, we still recommend getting your wisdom teeth, and the rest of your teeth, checked by a dentist regularly to maintain good oral health and prevent any issues.

By using an X-ray, your dentist will look to make sure you do not have any impacted wisdom teeth to get a jump start before you even notice symptoms.

Wisdom teeth removal or extraction

In the case there isn’t enough space for your wisdom teeth to come in correctly, there’s a strong chance you’ll need to get them taken out. Again, this goes on a case by case basis and requires a professional recommendation to book a wisdom teeth removal or extraction appointment.

Let’s take a look at when they’re usually necessary.

How to know if you have to get your wisdom teeth removed

The most important factor in deciding if you have to get your wisdom teeth removed, is the amount of space in your mouth. The dentist needs to take the pain and discomfort of the patient into consideration when determining if the wisdom teeth have to be removed, and even more importantly the orthodontic consequences of leaving them in. It’s their duty to fully assess the situation and make the best call for their patient.

If they opt for wisdom teeth removal, these are some of the most common reasons why:

  • They’ll cause crowding: if there isn’t enough space for the wisdom teeth, they can move or damage the surrounding teeth
  • They’re impacted: this is when the wisdom teeth are stuck within the gums and are unable to emerge. Impacted wisdom teeth can result in infections which can not only cause pain, but also damage to the roots or bones of neighboring teeth. In extreme cases, the patient may even form cysts or tumors.
  • They’re only partially erupted: third molars that only make it half way out of the gums create an environment especially susceptible to bacteria build-up because it’s difficult to clean and food can accumulate. This can eventually lead to cavities, abscesses, and infections.
  • The orthodontist has prescribed their removal: a lot of times when the patients intend to start orthodontic treatment, their orthodontist will recommend that they get their wisdom teeth removed first.

Pros and cons of wisdom teeth removal

Most of the time, wisdom teeth extraction is a necessary and massively beneficial procedure, especially when the patient has been suffering from pain or infections caused by their third molars. But it's still a big procedure, and like all others it has some side effects alongside its benefits. Let’s take a look at both.

Patient getting a panoramic X-ray to view her wisdom teeth

What are the benefits of removing wisdom teeth?

As you know by now, the benefits of removing wisdom teeth include comfort for the patient, the prevention of crowding and cavities, as well as aiding in orthodontic treatment.

Side effects of wisdom tooth extraction

In general, there aren’t any major side effects of wisdom tooth extraction. The only ones worth mentioning are those of the procedure itself. In the days after the extraction, the patient will likely experience pain, swelling, and bleeding. This is only temporary and the dentist may even prescribe painkillers to alleviate the discomfort. They should also explain any and all post-op maintenance, like rinsing and cleaning.

The cost of wisdom teeth removal

There are several factors that go into calculating the cost of wisdom tooth extraction in the US including the number of the teeth to be removed, the difficulty of removal, and medication used during the procedure. Patients have reported that it usually costs about $75 - $200 per tooth for standard wisdom tooth extractions. Note: prices can increase when patient cases require local anesthesia to extract the wisdom teeth.. All of these prices are before insurance. So be sure to talk to your specialist about the specifics of your case and see which insurance providers are accepted and if payment plans are available to help with the cost of wisdom teeth removal.

Wisdom teeth removal and braces or other orthodontics

The most common questions we get from patients are always about whether or not they’ll need wisdom teeth removal before they start orthodontic treatment with braces or aligners.

Should you remove your wisdom teeth for braces or aligners?

Whether or not you’ll need to get your wisdom teeth removed for braces or aligners depends on their position and that of the surrounding teeth. There are two types of malocclusions that would require the top and/or bottom wisdom teeth removal before orthodontic treatment: class II or class III malocclusions.

Let’s take a look at the exact the cause for removal in each of these cases:

  • Class II: When a patient suffers from class II malocclusion it means that their upper teeth further forward then the lower teeth. In this case, the patient will need to wear a distalized on the upper arch and their top wisdom teeth will need to be removed before getting braces or aligners. This could also require the extraction of the bottom wisdom teeth since, without the upper set, they serve no purpose of their own.
  • Class III: Now, with a class III malocclusion, the opposite is true. The lower teeth are further forward than the upper one, so the teeth of the lower arch require a distalizer, meaning the patient will need wisdom teeth removal on the bottom before starting with orthodontic treatment. The top wisdom teeth may also need to be removed, for the same reason stated above.
Dentist explaining a patient’s X-ray at her check-up

Can wisdom teeth move other teeth and cause orthodontic issues?

Historically, a lot of dentists would recommend that patients remove their wisdom teeth to prevent any movement after orthodontic treatment, but that’s changing. Although it’s not entirely clear, many recent studies are suggesting that wisdom teeth alone can not move other teeth and aren’t responsible for crowding. It’s still somewhat controversial.

To prevent movement, orthodontists now give their patients retainers, either fixed or removable, at the end of their treatment. Theoretically, if the patient follows the instructions on how often to wear them, the wisdom teeth shouldn’t be able to move the other teeth and ruin the orthodontic work. This is why it’s so important that the patient uses their retainers correctly and follow the guidance of the professional if they want to maintain their results.

Wisdom teeth removal and Impress

So if you’re considering improving your smile and oral health, but you’re unsure if you’ll need to have your wisdom teeth removed, Impress is here to help. When you come for your free consultation at one of our clinics, we’ll take X-rays and assess all your orthodontic needs before starting treatment—including if you need to have your wisdom teeth removed before you start your clear aligner journey.

Interested in learning more about our treatment? Feel free to reach out to us to get details and learn about our prices.

Get in contact with us by calling 888.490.1421, emailing careteam@uniformteeth.com or by booking your initial consultation online. Discover what Impress can do for you at your nearest clinic.

We can’t wait to see you smile!

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Frequently asked questions about wisdom teeth

Where are the wisdom teeth located?

As their medical term “third molar” suggests, wisdom teeth are located in the very back of the mouth on both top and bottom on both sides. For those who have them, they should be the very last tooth in all four corners.

How many wisdom teeth do you have?

Typically people should have four wisdom teeth, two on the top and two on the bottom. But these molars are quite irregular, and it’s possible to have less or none at all.

How do you know if your wisdom teeth are growing sideways?

If you’re worried about your wisdom growing sideways, the best way to know for sure is by checking with a dentist. They will be able to tell you the position or your wisdom teeth and whether or not they recommend getting them taken out.

What can I eat after wisdom teeth removal?

A lot of people express concern about what they can eat after getting their wisdom teeth removed. Most patients experience pain and swelling in the days directly after the procedure, making it difficult to eat solid foods. We recommend that you start with soft and cold foods until you’re feeling better.

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