Wisdom teeth removal is a major rite of passage for many in their late teens and early twenties.
They post images of their swollen cheeks on social media, share videos of themselves acting loopy from the anesthetics on YouTube, and enjoy an excuse to drink as many smoothies as possible. But why do we have these teeth in the first place if most of us just get them removed?
The prevailing theory about why we have a third set of molars is that our ancient ancestors needed them to effectively grind up the foods they ate. Unlike a modern diet of softer cooked and processed foods, theirs consisted of roots, fibrous plants, and raw meat, so they actually needed their wisdom teeth.
Some theorize that it is our diets more than our genes that determine whether or not we have room in our jaws for all thirty-two teeth. Eating a prehistoric diet during the developmental years might stimulate enough growth to accommodate them, while a modern diet does not (but we don’t recommend testing this theory).
A small (but growing) percentage of people never get wisdom teeth at all, or have fewer than four, but for most, they show up between ages 17 and 21. With enough room, they can come in with no trouble, but many people experience problems that necessitate extraction.
The main reasons for wisdom tooth extraction are impaction (meaning they are trapped beneath the gums, where they can form cysts and damage nearby teeth and bone) and insufficient room in the jaw, which causes damage, crowding, and pain. Some dental work may require wisdom teeth removal as well. If your wisdom teeth come in correctly and you are able to clean them properly, you might not need to have them removed, so enjoy your extra chewing power!
If your wisdom teeth do need to be removed, be sure to rest up before the big day so that you’ll be able to heal as quickly as possible. Afterward, stay well hydrated and avoid alcoholic, caffeinated, and hot beverages for the first day or two, because these can all cause problems with the extraction sites. However, you can enjoy as many soft foods like ice cream, yogurt, and applesauce as you want! After a couple of days, you can add in soups, but wait a week or two before you go back to hard or chewy foods.
No two cases of wisdom teeth removal are exactly the same, which is why we approach them on a case-by-case basis. We watch their progress as they come in to determine whether extraction will be necessary. Some discomfort is normal for any teeth coming in, but if you’re experiencing what seems like an unusual amount of pain from your wisdom teeth, come see us right away.
Top image used under CC0 Public Domain license. Image cropped and modified from original.