Wisdom teeth, also called third molars, usually appear between the ages of 17 and 21, but they can also come out much later. For many adolescents, the extraction of these teeth has become a rite of passage which is recommended by dentists.
But why don’t wisdom teeth appear at the same time as permanent teeth, that is to say during childhood? According to a study published in the journal Science Advances last October, this is because the child’s jaw does not have enough room for them. It also seems that these teeth are not yet necessary until adulthood.
The appearance of third molars is often accompanied by complications, which is the reason why many choose to have them removed.
The link between jaw size and the appearance of wisdom teeth
There may be several reasons why wisdom teeth appear much later today. According to anthropologist Julia Boughner of the University of Saskatchewan, Canada, jaw development is linked to diet during childhood.
For example, during prehistoric times, the diet of humans was rich in hard nuts, game meat, raw vegetables and other types of hard foods. The populations of the time followed this diet since their childhood and it allowed them to have a more elongated jaw. Later, when people started to favor softer foods, they reduced their potential for jaw development.
Another reason may also explain the late appearance of third molars. According to the explanations, these teeth serve as “replacements” for the molars.
“They serve as a kind of safeguard for someone who has lost another molar,” says Steven Kupferman, oral surgeon at Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles. Since most people do not lose their molars in childhood, wisdom teeth may not appear until later.
Why extract wisdom teeth?
Typically, dentists remove wisdom teeth to prevent pain as they erupt into an already crowded mouth. Extracting them in early adulthood also helps prevent later health problems like gum infections.
These teeth are usually removed before the age of 27. Beyond that, there is a greater risk of complications, to name only the possibilities of damage to neighboring nerves. However, if there are problems such as pain in the wisdom tooth for example, the dentist may decide to remove it.
According to Kupferman, not all wisdom teeth come out in late adolescence or early adulthood. So, as a person ages, their gums will retract and allow wisdom teeth to appear. However, these will only partially cross the gum line, so they will be more exposed to cavities. In this case, the best option would be to extract them.