Wisdom teeth are the last set of molars located at the back of the mouth. They typically emerge during the late teens or early 20s—hence the term “wisdom teeth”, because they come in when we’re older. Also known as third molars, these additional teeth helped our ancestors chew tough plant materials and coarse meat. But do we need our wisdom teeth now? This is quite a topic of debate.  

The evolution of our diets, plus changes in jaw size over time, means many people no longer have enough room in their mouths for wisdom teeth to emerge properly. Does this mean they should automatically be removed? Dr. Mojgan Mazhari of Alexandria Dental Health & Smile Studio says it depends.  

Do We Need Our Wisdom Teeth? An Alexandria, Virginia, Dentist Explains

“Wisdom teeth had their use many years ago, but today, they’re largely unnecessary for most people,” Dr. Mazhari says in this article. “Many people need to have their wisdom teeth removed because they’re impacted as a result of the jaw not having enough room to accommodate the teeth.” 

However, other people, Mazhari says, don’t have any trouble with wisdom teeth. “Some people may not need to have their wisdom teeth removed. A simple X-ray can tell where they are and if they’re impacted.” 

Sometimes, impacted wisdom teeth come in at odd angles, including sideways, or don’t fully emerge. This often causes a lot of pain as these third molars push against other teeth and force through the gumline.  

Why Impacted Wisdom Teeth Are a Problem and When to See a Dentist

Impacted wisdom teeth can cause various dental issues, such as: 

  • Pain and discomfort. Impacted wisdom teeth can cause pain, swelling, and discomfort in the back of the mouth.
  • Tooth crowding. Lack of space can lead to wisdom teeth pushing against adjacent teeth, causing misalignment or crowding.
  • Gum infections and cysts. Wisdom teeth that partially erupt can create pockets where bacteria can accumulate, leading to gum infections or cysts.
  • Tooth decay. Wisdom teeth are challenging to clean properly, making them more prone to tooth decay and cavities.
  • Periodontal disease. Difficulty in cleaning around the wisdom teeth can increase the risk of gum disease.
The necessity of wisdom teeth largely depends on an individual's specific oral health and jaw size. For many people, wisdom teeth are no longer necessary due to changes in diet and jaw size, and they may need to be removed if they cause problems. It's essential to consult with a dentist to determine the best course of action for your particular situation.