What are Wisdom Teeth Good For? Understanding the Purpose of These Mysterious Molars

When it comes to dental health, many people have heard of wisdom teeth. But despite their name, these notorious molars aren’t exactly known for their intelligence. In fact, many people have their wisdom teeth removed altogether. But before you schedule that appointment, you might want to consider what these teeth are good for.

Wisdom teeth are actually a type of third molar – the last set of molars to erupt in the back of your mouth. While many people don’t have enough space for them to comfortably fit, when wisdom teeth are able to fully emerge, they can play an important role in chewing and grinding up food. This can help you effectively break down tough or hard-to-chew foods, improving your digestion and overall health.

But the value of wisdom teeth goes beyond just chewing. Some experts believe that the presence of these molars may have helped our ancient ancestors survive harsher conditions. They provided an extra set of teeth to help grind up tough or chewy plant matter, which may have been an important source of sustenance in times when meat was scarce. So while wisdom teeth may not always be necessary or even advisable for modern humans, they have played an important role in our evolutionary history.

Purpose of Wisdom Teeth

Wisdom teeth, also called third molars, are the last set of teeth to develop in the back of the mouth. Most people have four wisdom teeth, two on the top and two on the bottom, but some may have none or more than four. These teeth typically start to emerge in the late teenage years or early 20s, and their purpose has been a subject of debate among dental professionals and anthropologists.

  • Ancient humans: Anthropologists believe that wisdom teeth were necessary for our early human ancestors who had larger jaws and needed the extra molars to chew tough, coarse foods like roots, nuts, and raw meat.
  • Molar replacement: Some dental experts believe that wisdom teeth act as replacements for molars that may have been lost due to injury or decay earlier in life.
  • No clear purpose: However, many dental professionals now believe that wisdom teeth serve no real purpose and are simply remnants of evolution.

Today, many individuals seek to have their wisdom teeth removed as they can cause a range of dental problems such as overcrowding, impaction, and infection. Dental professionals will evaluate whether or not a patient needs their wisdom teeth removed based on factors such as the size of their jaw, the angle of their teeth’s growth, and whether they are causing any pain or discomfort.

Formation of Wisdom Teeth

Wisdom teeth, also known as third molars, are the final set of teeth that typically develop in a person’s late teens or early twenties. These teeth are located at the back of the mouth and are the last teeth to emerge in the dental arch.

  • Approximately 20% of people lack wisdom teeth altogether, while others may have one, two, three, or even four wisdom teeth.
  • The formation of wisdom teeth begins during childhood and continues through adolescence. Around age 10, the wisdom teeth begin to develop, growing inside the jawbone and pushing upward as the person ages.
  • Generally, wisdom teeth are not needed for normal mouth function and can be removed without any negative impact on oral health.

Research suggests that wisdom teeth may have been necessary in early human history when our ancestors needed the extra molars to chew tough, fibrous foods. However, as diets evolved to include softer, cooked foods, the need for wisdom teeth diminished.

Interestingly, the presence or absence of wisdom teeth is often determined by genetics. Studies have shown that certain populations have higher rates of missing wisdom teeth, while others are more likely to have them. For example, people of Asian descent are more likely to lack wisdom teeth than people of European descent.

Population Percentage of people with missing wisdom teeth
Asian 40-50%
African 11-25%
European 5-10%

Overall, the formation of wisdom teeth is a unique process that varies from person to person. While these teeth may have served an important purpose in the past, they are now typically considered vestigial and may need to be removed to prevent dental problems.

Function of Wisdom Teeth in Early Humans

The wisdom teeth, also known as third molars, are a set of teeth that typically emerge in the late teenage years or early twenties. They are often seen as a source of dental pain and discomfort and are commonly removed. However, in the past, wisdom teeth played a crucial role in early human survival and served an important function.

  • Chewing Tough Foods: One of the primary functions of wisdom teeth was to aid in the chewing of tough, fibrous foods. Our ancestors had a diet that was vastly different from our modern-day diets, relying heavily on tough roots, nuts, and meats. Wisdom teeth provided additional molars in the mouth to help with the chewing process, making it easier to break down and digest these foods.
  • Natural Replacement: Early humans experienced a much higher rate of tooth loss than we do today. Wisdom teeth were considered a valuable natural replacement for lost teeth and helped to maintain a full set of teeth into old age. This was particularly important for our ancestors, who had a shorter life span and a higher risk of tooth decay and disease.
  • Jaw Growth: Wisdom teeth also played a role in jaw growth and development. As our ancestors evolved and their diets changed, their jaws began to shrink in size. Wisdom teeth helped to stimulate and maintain jaw bone density, which was crucial for a healthy and functioning mouth.

While the function of wisdom teeth may have changed over time as our diets and lifestyles evolved, they played an essential role in early human survival. Today, however, wisdom teeth are often more trouble than they’re worth, regularly causing dental issues, pain, and discomfort. It’s important to maintain proper dental hygiene and consult with a dental professional if you experience any wisdom teeth-related issues.

If you’re dealing with wisdom teeth pain, it’s essential to seek advice from an experienced dental professional who can recommend the best treatment options for your specific needs.

Wisdom Teeth in Early Humans:
Diet: Relied on tough, fibrous foods that required additional molars, such as wisdom teeth, for chewing.
Tooth Loss: Higher rate of tooth loss than in modern-day humans, with wisdom teeth serving as a valuable natural replacement.
Jaw Growth: Wisdom teeth stimulated and maintained jaw bone density, which was crucial for a healthy and functioning mouth.

Overall, wisdom teeth played an essential role in the survival of early humans, providing additional molars for chewing, serving as natural tooth replacements, and stimulating jaw growth and development. While they may no longer serve the same function in our modern-day lives, it’s important to understand the importance they once held in human evolution.

The Oral Surgery of Extracting Wisdom Teeth

Wisdom teeth, also known as third molars, are the last set of teeth to develop and typically emerge in the late teenage years or early adulthood. While some people have enough room in their mouths to accommodate these teeth, others experience problems related to the development and positioning of these teeth, leading to the need for extraction.

When it comes to extracting wisdom teeth, oral surgery is required. This is because the teeth are situated deep within the gums and may require incisions to access. Oral surgeons specialize in this type of procedure and are trained to ensure the process is as painless and efficient as possible.

Risks and Complications of Wisdom Teeth Extraction

  • Pain and swelling
  • Infection
  • Dry socket, a painful condition that occurs when the blood clot that usually forms after a tooth extraction dissolves or dislodges

In some cases, nerve damage can occur. This can lead to temporary or permanent numbness or tingling in the mouth, cheeks, or tongue. However, these risks are rare and most people recover without complications.

Before the Procedure

Before the surgery, the oral surgeon will conduct a comprehensive exam to determine the best course of action. This will typically include X-rays and an assessment of the patient’s overall health and any medications they are taking. It’s important to follow the surgeon’s instructions carefully to prepare for the procedure. This may include fasting for a certain amount of time prior to surgery and arranging for someone to drive the patient home afterward, as anesthesia is typically used during the procedure.

The surgeon will discuss the type of anesthesia that will be used during the procedure, which will depend on the individual’s needs and preference. This can range from a local anesthetic to numbing the mouth to general anesthesia, which will put the patient to sleep for the duration of the procedure.

The Procedure

During the procedure, the oral surgeon will make an incision in the gum tissue to access the tooth. They may need to remove bone or cut the tooth into smaller pieces to make removal easier. Once the tooth is removed, the surgeon will rinse the area with saline and stitch the gums closed. Gauze will be placed over the extraction site to help control bleeding and aid in the formation of a blood clot.

Stage Description
Initial soft tissue incision The surgeon makes a small incision in the gum tissue to access the tooth
Bone removal The surgeon may need to remove bone to access or remove the tooth
Tooth sectioning The tooth may need to be cut into smaller pieces to facilitate removal
Tooth removal The tooth is removed from the socket
Cleaning the site The surgeon rinses the extraction site with saline to clean it
Closure The surgeon stitches the gums closed and places gauze over the extraction site

Most people experience some swelling and discomfort after the procedure, which can be managed with over-the-counter pain relievers and ice packs. The surgeon will provide detailed instructions on how to care for the extraction site and minimize the risk of complications.

Overall, while wisdom tooth extraction may sound daunting, it’s a routine procedure that can help prevent pain, infection, and other oral health problems down the line.

When to Remove Wisdom Teeth

Wisdom teeth, or third molars, are the last set of teeth to erupt in the mouth. They typically can grow in as early as 17 years old but can continue until the late twenties. While some people can keep their wisdom teeth without any complications, others may require their removal for various reasons. Here are some instances when removal might be necessary:

  • Impacted Wisdom Teeth: When wisdom teeth emerge at an angle or don’t have enough room to grow, they can become impacted, meaning they are stuck beneath the gum line. This can cause pain, swelling, and infection. In such cases, removal might be necessary.
  • Crowding: Wisdom teeth can cause crowding and shift surrounding teeth that were straight after braces. In such cases, dentists might advise removal to prevent misalignment or crowding.
  • Tooth Decay: Wisdom teeth are found at the back of the mouth, making them difficult to clean and more susceptible to tooth decay. If your dentist identifies any signs of decay, they might recommend removing them.

While some complications might require immediate removal, some issues can build up over time. In such cases, your dentist might suggest that you keep monitor your wisdom teeth, and you might have them removed at a later time if necessary

If your dentist confirms that removal of your wisdom tooth is required, surgery might be the recommended option. During the surgery, you will receive either a local anesthetic or be put under general anesthesia to numb the area. Post-surgery, you can expect some mild swelling and discomfort, but these usually only last for a few days.

Reasons for Wisdom Tooth Extraction Pros of Extracting Wisdom Tooth Cons of Extracting Wisdom Tooth
Removal of impacted wisdom tooth Prevention of swelling, pain, and tooth decay surrounding the impacted tooth Mild discomfort during or after the surgery
Crowding or shifting of teeth Preventing misalignment or crowding of teeth The potential risk of nerve damage during the extraction procedure
Prevent tooth decay in wisdom teeth Prevention of tooth decay in hard-to-reach areas Possible risks of surgical complication

Overall, it is best to have regular check-ups with your dentist to assess if removal of your wisdom teeth is necessary. It’s important to understand the potential risks and benefits of surgery and to work with your dentist to come up with the best solution for your situation.

Post-Operative Care After Wisdom Teeth Surgery

After getting your wisdom teeth removed, it is important to follow post-operative care instructions to ensure proper healing and avoid complications. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Use ice packs on your cheeks for the first 24 hours to reduce swelling
  • Take prescribed pain medication as directed
  • Avoid smoking or using tobacco products

In addition to these immediate steps, it is also important to maintain good oral hygiene and keep the mouth clean during the healing process.

Here are some key tips:

  • Do not brush teeth or rinse mouth for the first 24 hours
  • After 24 hours, gently rinse mouth with salt water or mouthwash
  • Do not use straws for the first few days as the sucking motion can dislodge the blood clot and delay healing
  • Consume soft foods for the first few days and gradually reintroduce solid foods as healing progresses

It is important to schedule a follow-up appointment with your dentist or oral surgeon to ensure proper healing and address any complications that may arise.

Signs of Complications Action to Take
Fever or chills Contact your oral surgeon or seek medical attention
Excessive bleeding or discharge Apply gentle pressure with clean gauze or cloth and seek medical attention if bleeding persists
Increase in pain or swelling after first few days Contact your oral surgeon or seek medical attention

By following these post-operative care instructions, you can help ensure a smooth recovery from wisdom teeth removal surgery.

Complications of Wisdom Teeth Extraction

While wisdom teeth extraction is a common dental procedure, it is not without potential complications. Some of the most significant risks associated with wisdom teeth extraction include:

  • Infection: This is a risk with any surgery, and wisdom teeth extraction is no exception. Your dentist will likely prescribe antibiotics to prevent infection, but it is important to watch for signs of infection after the procedure, such as fever, redness, swelling, or discharge.
  • Bleeding: Some bleeding is normal after wisdom teeth extraction, but excessive bleeding can be a problem. Your dentist will provide specific instructions to minimize bleeding after the procedure, such as avoiding hot liquids and drinking through a straw.
  • Dry socket: This occurs when the blood clot that forms in the extraction site is dislodged or dissolves, exposing the bone and nerves underneath. This can be quite painful and may require additional treatment to manage.
  • Nerve damage: The roots of the wisdom teeth often lie near important nerves in the jaw, and damage to these nerves can cause numbness, tingling, or even paralysis in the lower lip, chin, or tongue. This is a rare complication, but it can be permanent.
  • Damage to adjacent teeth: The roots of the wisdom teeth can extend into the roots of adjacent teeth, causing damage or decay. Your dentist may recommend X-rays to check for this before the extraction.
  • Difficulty opening the mouth: This may occur due to inflammation or muscle stiffness after the procedure, but it usually subsides within a few days.
  • Anesthesia complications: Wisdom teeth extractions are typically performed under local anesthesia, but some patients may require general anesthesia. This carries additional risks, such as allergic reactions or breathing difficulties.

If you experience any of these complications after wisdom teeth extraction, it is important to contact your dentist right away. While most complications can be managed with proper care, untreated complications can lead to more serious problems.


While wisdom teeth may have served a purpose in our evolutionary history, they are often more trouble than they are worth in modern times. Wisdom teeth extraction is a safe and relatively simple procedure that can help prevent a range of dental problems, from crowded teeth to gum disease. However, it is important to be aware of the potential risks and complications, and to follow your dentist’s instructions carefully to minimize them.

With proper care and attention, most people can recover from wisdom teeth extraction without any significant problems. However, it is always best to consult with your dentist if you have any concerns or questions about the procedure, as they are the experts in caring for your dental health.

Complication Potential symptoms
Infection Fever, redness, swelling, discharge
Bleeding Excessive bleeding, prolonged bleeding
Dry socket Pain, bad breath, exposed bone
Nerve damage Numbness, tingling, paralysis in lip, chin, or tongue
Damage to adjacent teeth Decay, pain, sensitivity
Difficulty opening mouth Inflammation, muscle stiffness
Anesthesia complications Allergic reactions, breathing difficulties

Sources: Mayo Clinic, American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons

What Are Wisdom Teeth Good For FAQs

Q: What are wisdom teeth?
A: Wisdom teeth are the third set of molars located at the back of the mouth, usually appearing in late teens or early twenties.

Q: Are wisdom teeth necessary?
A: While wisdom teeth were once necessary for our ancestors to help them chew tough, raw foods, they are no longer necessary since our diets have become softer.

Q: What purpose do wisdom teeth serve now?
A: Wisdom teeth do not serve a functional purpose in the modern human mouth. However, they can cause discomfort and dental issues if they become impacted or do not emerge properly.

Q: Why do some people get their wisdom teeth removed?
A: Many people get their wisdom teeth removed to prevent potential dental issues, such as crowding or infection.

Q: Can wisdom teeth cause problems with orthodontic treatment?
A: Yes, wisdom teeth can cause crowding or shifting of teeth, which can undo the progress of orthodontic treatment.

Q: How can you tell if wisdom teeth are causing problems?
A: Some common signs of wisdom teeth issues include pain, swelling, infection, or gum irritation in the back of the mouth.

Q: Can wisdom teeth grow back?
A: No, once wisdom teeth are removed, they will not grow back.

Closing Thoughts

And there you have it – the answers to your frequently asked questions about what wisdom teeth are good for. While wisdom teeth may have served a purpose in the past, they are not necessary in modern-day life and can even cause dental issues. So if you’re experiencing discomfort or think your wisdom teeth may be causing problems, be sure to consult with your dentist. Thanks for reading, and we hope you come back to learn more from our articles in the future!