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What Exactly Is a Wisdom Tooth?

What Exactly Is a Wisdom Tooth?

You probably think about wisdom teeth only when you find out someone had them removed. But if you did stop and think about them, you might have questions.

Why do we have wisdom teeth? Why are they called that? What purpose do they serve?

At Silicon Valley Dental Associates in Sunnyvale, California, our providers have the answers. Here’s the lowdown on wisdom teeth:

Where are wisdom teeth located?

Your wisdom teeth, or third molars, are found in the back of your mouth — the last set of adult teeth to come in. From the time you get your first tooth, your teeth grow systematically, from your temporary children’s teeth to permanent adult teeth.

You usually get your first molars at age 6 and your second molars at age 12. Your third molars (wisdom teeth) usually erupt between ages 17 and 25. They’re called wisdom teeth because you’re older and presumably wiser when they come in.

Not everyone has wisdom teeth. According to one study, about 53% of the population has at least one wisdom tooth. When they do form, you can have as many as four. 

Why do we have wisdom teeth?

Most health care providers consider wisdom teeth vestigial, meaning they once had a purpose but no longer serve that purpose. 


According to anthropologists, our ancestors needed their third molars to help chew the coarser, denser food available to them, such as hard nuts, roots, tough meat, and raw plants. Wisdom teeth helped them grind the food to digest it more easily.

Modern food preparation and eating utensils have eliminated much of this need, so wisdom teeth are no longer necessary for people to eat.

What problems can wisdom teeth cause?

Wisdom teeth do sometimes come in properly, just as an ordinary tooth would, and don’t cause pain or problems. Many times, though, they become partially or fully trapped, or impacted, in your gums or jawbone. 

Impacted teeth can cause infection, cavities, gum disease, and other oral health problems. They can also crowd your other teeth, causing alignment issues. 

The most common treatment for wisdom teeth is removal. This procedure can be performed under anesthesia by a dentist or oral surgeon. Most wisdom teeth removals take place when people are in their late teens or early 20s to prevent future oral health issues. 

If you suspect your wisdom teeth may need to be removed, our expert team at Silicon Valley Dental Associates can help. Call the office at 408-659-3661 or use our online scheduler to schedule your visit.

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