Wisdom Teeth


We've all heard of "wisdom teeth." But what are they, exactly? Why do we have them, and why do they have such a funny name?

Third molars

Wisdom teeth are molars. Molars are the large teeth in the back of your mouth that grind your food as you chew. Your wisdom teeth are your "third molars" - the molars in the very back. They're the last teeth to come in. We call them "wisdom teeth" because they tend to break through your gums when you are between the ages of 17 and 21. By then you're hopefully a little wiser than you were when you got your other permanent teeth.

Why we have them

Anthropologists believe we have these teeth because our early ancestors needed them to chew things that were tough and uncooked. But over time, human jaws became smaller. And now, wisdom teeth often don't have room to come in comfortably.


If yours come in and don't cause problems, you don't have to worry about them. But if they don't come in, or if they only stick out partially, they can cause problems. They may crowd your other teeth, and harm the roots of your other molars. They can trap food debris, and may be hard to brush and floss. They can let bacteria enter your gums. This leads to infection, tooth decay and gum disease.


If one or more of your wisdom teeth are causing problems, you may need to have them removed. This is called "extraction." Your dentist will let you know if wisdom tooth extraction is right for you.