Questions & Myths: Wisdom Teeth

Wisdom teeth are the third set of molars in the mouth. Most young adults see (and feel!) their wisdom coming in between the ages of 17 to 21. These are the last teeth to grow in. We’re born with 20 “baby teeth” which fall out during our childhood.

These are replaced by up to 32 permanent teeth. Up to 32? You mean we don’t all have wisdom teeth? Nope.

It turns out that, while most adults have at least one wisdom tooth develop – and many adults experience all four wisdom teeth growing in – some people (a minority to be sure) never even get one wisdom tooth.

That’s the first reason you wouldn’t need to get wisdom teeth removed: If you never had them in the first place. We’ll get to the other reasons in just a bit.

If some people don’t have any wisdom teeth, and a lot of the rest of us are getting our wisdom teeth removed, does that mean that we don’t need them? And if that’s the case, why do we even have wisdom teeth at all?

At this point in human evolution, wisdom teeth are superfluous.

Our other molars – the first molars and second molars (a.k.a. the “six-year molars” & “12-year molars”) – are more than sufficient for accomplishing the chewing tasks that today’s average person faces.

Once upon a time, humans had to chew some pretty hard and coarse foods – such as roots, nuts, leaves and tough meat, among others. The third molars were helpful in getting those tasks done.

Over time our diets have evolved, and we’ve grown accustomed to eating softer and more refined foods.

Our jaws have also changed shape, becoming smaller with evolution.

That presents a problem, however, with the same number of teeth housed in the jaw. Something has got to give!