We’ve all heard the horror stories about wisdom teeth. How can these teeth be so unfunctional they have to be removed out of thousands of mouths? Learn more about when wisdom teeth come in, why they need to be removed so often, and everything else!

This article covers:

  • What are wisdom teeth
  • When do wisdom teeth come in
  • Why wisdom teeth removal is necessary
  • How the wisdom teeth removal procedure works

What are Wisdom Teeth?

Wisdom teeth are found in the back of your mouth. In total you’ll have four wisdom teeth. They are the third molar, which is also the final and farthest back molar. When wisdom teeth are healthy and aligned they are helpful for grinding food. However, it is often the case wisdom teeth come in misaligned.

When Do Wisdom Teeth Come In?

Most people get their molars in their late teens or early twenties. If you are unsure whether your wisdom teeth have come in yet, ask your dentist about the positioning of your wisdom teeth, which they can determine with an x-ray. Dentists may use x-rays periodically to observe how your wisdom teeth are coming in. If they appear to be growing misaligned you may have your wisdom teeth removed before they’ve developed problems. This is done because the procedure is easier for younger ages, when the root of the teeth are not fully developed and the bone is less dense. Recovery and healing time for youths are also less significant compared to older patients. What’s the Problem with Wisdom Teeth?

Dentist table filled with equipment, including an x-ray picture and cotton swabs
Visit your dentist and ask about your wisdom teeth. If they don’t already have a recent x-ray of your teeth they’re likely to give you one then to take a look.

What’s the Problem with Wisdom Teeth?

Often wisdom teeth are misaligned, which means removal is necessary. When they come in misaligned, they may be positioned horizontally, angled toward or away from the second molar, or angled inward or outward. A misaligned tooth has to be removed before it causes further damage, crowding or damaging adjacent teeth, the jawbone, or nerves. 

Ways in which wisdom teeth can go wrong doesn’t stop there, as there is the issue of partial eruption. When a wisdom tooth is coming in it breaks through the soft tissue. If it only partially breaks through the gum the wisdom tooth creates an opening that makes it vulnerable to bacteria. The bacteria that enters around the tooth can cause infection, resulting in pain, swelling, jaw stiffness, and general illness. Because wisdom teeth are in hard to reach areas they are difficult to brush and floss, which makes a partially erupted wisdom tooth more prone to tooth decay and gum disease. 

As you can see there are many ways a wisdom tooth can go wrong, which makes it no surprise they’re removed so often.

How are Wisdom Teeth Removed?

The difficulty of the procedure depends on several variables. Age determines how developed the tooth is. Older patients will have a longer recovery. It also depends on the state of the wisdom tooth. A fully emerged wisdom tooth is extracted with the most ease. If it is not fully erupted the extraction is complicated. For teeth that are still under the gums and embedded in the jawbone, your dentist or oral surgeon must make an incision into the gum and remove a portion of the bone that lies over the tooth. To minimize the amount of bone extraction the tooth will then likely be removed not as a whole but in small sections. 

Pliers holding a removed molar
Wisdom teeth are pulled out when there’s an issue with misalignment or partial eruption. Depending on the condition and stage of development of the tooth, extraction can go several ways. 

To help with the pain, before any pulling is done the surrounding tissue is numbed with a local anesthetic. To help with the pain even further and control anxiety, you or your dentist may decide you take a sedative so you sleep through the procedure. Sedating medications can vary. You may be given nitrous oxide, also known as "laughing gas". If you are given just this you will be able to drive yourself home after the procedure. If you are given an oral sedative such as Valium, or an intravenous sedative which is administered via an injection into your veins, you will not someone to drive you to and from the appointment.

So now you know: wisdom teeth are all the way in the back of your mouth, and they’re talked about so much because of how often they have issues. Many people are having their wisdom teeth pulled in their teens and early twenties. It can be reassuring to know what it is that’s getting yanked out of your mouth, and why it needs to go.