Your Third Molars: Why Are They Called Wisdom Teeth?

August 17, 2016

Filed under: Wisdom Teeth — Tags: , , , — Dr. Steve Koo @ 4:47 am

wisdom teeth

If you have ever experienced pain from the so-called wisdom teeth, you are probably wondering how they earned that name. They sure don’t feel all that wise. And why do we develop wisdom teeth if they just need to be removed, anyway? Your Houston oral surgeon explains everything you ever wanted to know about wisdom teeth in this installment of the Piney Point Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery blog!

What Are Wisdom Teeth?

Wisdom teeth are the set of third molars that appear during adolescence until early adulthood. And more often than not, they cause problems that require their extraction. Common issues associated with wisdom teeth include infection, impaction, tooth crowding, and pain. Problematic wisdom teeth occur so frequently that their extraction has become a routine procedure. In fact, it’s one of the most common oral surgeries performed today, with approximately 10 million wisdom teeth extracted annually in the United States.

Why Do We Have These Third Molars?

If you’re suffering from wisdom tooth pain, it may be disheartening to learn that we really don’t need these third molars anymore. Their development is a holdover from aeons ago, when humans had to chew harder, tougher foods — like raw meat and tough roots. Back then, we had to have stronger teeth, and were more prone to losing them, too. That means there was always the need, and space, for third molars. But now with improved dental care and a diet that has (thankfully) evolved to softer, easier to eat and digest foods, wisdom teeth just need to go.

But… Why Are They Called Wisdom Teeth?

It’s a good question. There’s nothing so wise about these often painful third molars. Wisdom teeth earned their title because they usually appear between ages 18 and 21, or the time when people used to think wisdom was gained. (New theories on emerging adulthood between ages 18 to 29 may call for a renaming, however.)

In Spanish, these teeth are known as las muelas del juicio, or the “teeth of judgement.” It’s the same idea, but with a slight difference — and anyone who’s known (or been) an 18-year-old may argue with the sentiment! But whether you call them wisdom teeth, third molars, or judgement teeth, the truth is that these late bloomers will most likely need to be extracted if they appear.

Why Wisdom Teeth Cause Problems

The third molars cause issues when there is not enough room for them to fully emerge. Wisdom teeth may come in crooked, or they may erupt only partially. That leads to crowding of the rest of the teeth, a painful side effect that may call for orthodontic treatment later on. And when teeth erupt partially, sideways, or don’t ever actually emerge from beneath the gum at all, it’s easy for food particles and bacteria to collect underneath the gum flap. That quickly leads to infection — and the classic wisdom tooth pain that sends you straight to the dentist’s office.

Seek Relief From Your Wisdom Tooth Pain

If you have pain related to your third molars, don’t wait to seek tooth extraction. Contact Piney Point Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery for Houston oral surgery, wisdom tooth extraction, today!

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