Having wisdom teeth is a known rite of passage people go through. Unlike other coming-of-age events, however, wisdom teeth don’t exactly inspire excitement because they are associated with excruciating pain.
But does everyone have wisdom teeth? Some people don’t. Others are fortunate that they don’t experience impacted wisdom teeth and the pain and stress that often comes with it.
So why don’t some people have wisdom teeth while others do? We’ll give you the answers you’re looking for in this blog.
Wisdom Teeth: The Basics
Wisdom teeth are the third and final molars that emerge beneath the gums. They are called such because they appear when people are at the cusp of adulthood. Most get their wisdom teeth between 17 and 25 years old, just in time to go to college and start living independently. Ideally, a person gets four third molars, two on the upper jaw and two on the lower jaw. However, some will have only three or fewer wisdom teeth, and that’s perfectly normal.
Most of the time, wisdom teeth must be removed soon after erupting because the jaws are already crowded with fully developed teeth by the time they emerge. As the latecomer, the wisdom teeth adjust to the cramped space, which sometimes means growing in a diagonal position and intersecting with the root of the adjacent tooth.
When a cramped wisdom tooth grows in an odd position and cracks, it becomes impacted. An impacted wisdom tooth is a big problem because bacteria can make its way through the crack and cause an infection. Since the jaw has so many nerve endings, the infection can aggravate them and cause intense, sharp pain at the back of the mouth. Worse, the pain can intensify and feel like it extends down to your neck and shoulders or up to your temples.
Given these circumstances, it’s unsurprising that many consider people who appear not to have wisdom teeth lucky!
Why Don’t Some People Have Wisdom Teeth?
The straightforward answer to this question is evolution. The third molars are vestigial structures which means that they, like the tailbone, have phased out their use. During primitive times when humans were foragers whose diets included twigs, nuts, roots and raw meat, the third molars provided extra grinding power for easier digestion. However, as time passed and human intelligence paved the way for modern life – one where our food options are much more processed and easier to eat – our species grew out of the need for third molars.
A literature review published in Dental Research Journal says that 5 to 37 percent of people today do not have one or more of their wisdom teeth. In addition, research suggests that not having wisdom teeth has now become genetic: people whose parents did not have them or had less than four are most likely to be the same. So now, if anyone asks “does everyone have wisdom teeth”, you can say it depends on their parents, and you wouldn’t be wrong!
However, just because you don’t have the known symptoms of wisdom teeth doesn’t mean you don’t have them. For example, it is possible that you have third molars, but they stay beneath the gum line instead of surfacing in your oral cavity.
What To Do if Your Wisdom Teeth Don’t Erupt
There are three possibilities if your wisdom teeth don’t erupt:
- You don’t have third molars.
- You have third molars, but they won’t emerge.
- You have third molars that can’t erupt and might become impacted.
If you’ve passed your late teens and early 20s without incident, you can assume that your third molars are staying where they currently are. Just be observant of any changes in the future, like sudden pain in the back of your jaw or a toothache, even though you regularly visit the dentist and don’t have cavities. Those could signal a late eruption.
What happens if your molars become impacted? First, you’ll need to consult your dentist and have x-rays of your jaw taken. Next, they need to determine if your molars must be extracted. Wisdom teeth extraction is a delicate procedure that must be done with the utmost care, hence the need for x-ray visuals. If you’re lucky, your dentist might determine that your third molars are fine where they are and removing them won’t be necessary.
When Is Extraction Necessary?
Besides getting rid of the pain, wisdom tooth extraction is necessary when it disrupts the rest of your teeth. They have trouble erupting in the first place because there’s not enough room for them in the oral cavity. If they force their way through the gums, they can also break apart or crack the adjacent molars. It would be bad if you end up with two impacted teeth, so while your dentist can still prevent it, expect them to recommend an extraction.
Extracting third molars will also prevent your teeth from becoming misaligned. So if you want to maintain your teeth’s current alignment, you may have to have your third molars removed if they emerge.
Get Gentle Dental Care From Advanced Orthodontics
Each person has a different situation regarding their wisdom teeth, even with genetics as a factor. It is best, therefore, to consult your trusted dentist’s opinion on whether or not you’ll be better off without your third molars.
You can consult our experienced orthodontists at Advanced Orthodontics if you have concerns about your wisdom teeth affecting your alignment. Our dental practice has provided quality orthodontic care and services in the Arizona Valley since 2005. Equipped with the latest in orthodontic technology and treatment techniques, we can help you maintain your beautiful smile without the excruciating pain of impacted molars.
Call or text 480.357.4900 or fill out our contact form to book an appointment.