Is Removing Wisdom Teeth Always Wise?

Millions of people have their wisdom teeth removed each year and it’s often seen as a rite of passage. When you mix oral surgery, sedatives, and teenagers, the results are ROFL viral videos. While wisdom teeth surgery is often a cause for funny story swapping, the debate between dentists and oral surgeons has recently become quite serious. Should we really yank out our wisdom teeth?

First, some background

Your wisdom teeth, or third molars, are located in the very back of the upper and lower jaw. Wisdom teeth typically arrive later in life, between the ages of 17 and 21. Oscar Wilde once said, “with age comes wisdom,” so that’s probably why we call them wisdom teeth!

Why do we have wisdom teeth if they are often pulled out anyway? We can blame our earliest ancestors for this nuisance. Early man had to have large jaws and wisdom teeth to break down some pretty tough foods like raw meat, nuts, and roots. In modern times, food is cooked and chopped so everything is now soft and bite sized, making chewing much easier and less strenuous. Therefore, the human jaw has decreased in size over time. But a smaller jaw means that there is less room for our wisdom teeth.

Soft, cooked foods make a third set of molars (wisdom teeth) rather unnecessary.

Now let’s get into some of the facts… and some of the fiction.

Wisdom teeth are considered vestigial organs – Fact

Human vestigiality refers to traits that have lost their original function through the course of evolution like our appendix and tonsils. However, vestigial traits aren’t necessarily functionless. These traits may have lesser functions or even develop new functions. People who have healthy wisdom teeth use these teeth while eating, but this offers no real advantage since we are no longer eating raw, coarse food.

Wisdom teeth should always be removed to prevent future complications  – Fiction

Wisdom teeth can be at a higher risk for cavities and gum disease because most people find that they are harder to reach with toothbrushes. When wisdom teeth cause pain or infection, dental professionals agree that removal is the best practice.

Often times, wisdom teeth are impacted, meaning they are trapped in the jawbone. Up until recently, oral surgeons have removed wisdom teeth simply due to impaction. But research has shown that even these oddly oriented impacted teeth may not cause any problems if left alone.

For years, healthy wisdom teeth have been removed to prevent symptoms down the road. Evidence-based research shows that the risk of future problems is not high enough to support removing symptom-free wisdom teeth. That’s right — in many cases, taking out wisdom teeth is not necessary. Instead, monitoring disease-free wisdom teeth is now being recommended. We may see a large decline in the number of wisdom teeth surgeries as more dentists begin to err on the minimally-invasive side.

Wisdom teeth cause crowding of the other teeth – Fiction  

There is a major misconception that wisdom teeth cause crowding after orthodontic treatment. Wisdom teeth form in cancellous bone which is spongy bone that lacks firm support. Because of this, wisdom teeth don’t have enough force to move the other teeth. To many people’s surprise, research does not support removing healthy, impacted wisdom teeth to prevent crowding.

So, the truth is out: it’s not always wise to remove wisdom teeth. If you have your wisdom teeth, it’s important to understand the health of your third molars before signing up for surgery. If you’ve never developed wisdom teeth, some may argue that you don’t have any wisdom. But you can just drop the mic, and say you are more evolutionarily advanced than the rest of us.

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