Wisdom teeth, also known as third molars, are last in line in the back of the mouth. But not all of us have our wisdom teeth, for a variety of reasons.
For many people, wisdom teeth emerge from the jaw between the ages of 17 and 25 years, and they don’t cause problems. In other people, the wisdom teeth become impacted, which means that they are trapped within the jaw and unable to emerge. But that’s not always a bad thing. Impacted wisdom teeth often cause no symptoms or pain and stay within the jaw for life.
But in some cases, the impacted wisdom tooth does cause problems. You may experience redness and swelling around the area where the tooth is impacted as well as jaw pain, headaches, and a strange taste when you bite near the area of the impacted tooth.
Wisdom teeth are a holdover from the earlier days of humans, when we ate a more primitive diet and needed more teeth. Humans today have smaller jaws and many of us are unable to accommodate these late-emerging teeth. As wisdom teeth try to emerge, they can push other teeth out of the way and interfere with orthodontic work. Also, partially emerged wisdom teeth can provide a breeding ground for bacteria, and bacterial buildup can lead to severe gum disease.
Even if impacted wisdom teeth are causing no symptoms, some dentists recommend removing them surgically to prevent the possibility of future problems. Fortunately, wisdom tooth extraction is a common outpatient procedure, performed under local anesthesia. As with any surgery, expect some residual bleeding, swelling and bruising in the first few days, and limit your activities. But most people recover quickly and easily.