What are wisdom teeth?

If you've ever wondered why they're called "wisdom teeth," it's because they break through in your late teens or early twenties—at a time in life when you're wiser than you were when your last set of molars (teeth in the back of your mouth) came in.

Some people never experience problems with wisdom teeth. This is because there is plenty of space in their mouths for the teeth to come in and the teeth grow in alignment with the opposing top and bottom teeth. In some cases, the wisdom teeth never actually break the surface of the gums. The teeth can be seen via X-ray just below the surface, but they don't cause gum or nerve problems.

For many others, however, wisdom tooth pain can be excruciating. The teeth may grow in at an angle, putting pressure on surrounding teeth or on the nerves down below. Or the teeth break through the surface but never grow any further. This creates an opening that can cause bacteria to grow and make you vulnerable to infection.

In the United States, it is common for wisdom teeth to be surgically removed—even if they are not causing problems—particularly in younger patients. This is because the roots of the teeth are not as deep and strong as in an older person. The older you get, the more difficult wisdom tooth extraction and recovery time can be.

With regular dental checkups, your dentist will be able to track how your wisdom teeth are growing and may make recommendations on whether to remove or leave them as is. If you are having any problems in the area of your wisdom teeth, such as:

Be sure to talk to your dentist. Delaying getting checked out or treated could lead to infection or further problems down the road.


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The Main Line Health Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery team helps you achieve excellent oral health. Our goal is to help you improve how your jaw, mouth and teeth work and appear, especially if they have been affected by a health condition or injury.


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Main Line Health dentists and oral surgeons can help you keep a healthy smile for a lifetime by visiting one of our locations throughout the Philadelphia area.