First, what is a wisdom tooth? A wisdom tooth is an adult tooth that erupts (comes up through the gums) in the mid-teen years. Normally, there are four wisdom teeth, one in each quadrant of the mouth: upper right, lower right, upper left, and lower left. The wisdom tooth is the molar which is the farthest back. Dentists refer to them as 3rd molars because they are the third molar in each quadrant to erupt. (First molars erupt around age 6. Second molars erupt around age 12.)
Wondering why wisdom teeth are so often extracted? Here it is:
1) Human jaws often are not long enough to allow enough room for the wisdom teeth to fully erupt.
2) Because there is insufficient room for wisdom teeth to erupt upright, they almost always lay at a slant, pushing against the second molar in front of them.
3) Pressure from the wisdom tooth pushing on the second molar causes pain, infection, and swelling.
4) Because third molars are often in contact with the tooth in front of them, there is not room for bone between the two. Think of this as two nails in a board that are so close together they touch. It’s easy to imagine that with no wood (bone) between the two nails (teeth), the nails (teeth) are not well-supported.
5) Because wisdom teeth are so far back, they are difficult to clean, so they are cavity-prone.
My recommendation: Have all wisdom teeth extracted as around age 16. The younger, the better because we heal better when we’re younger and over time, the roots grow longer, making extractions more challenging and healing a bit more involved.