Wisdom Teeth

Your wisdom teeth are your last set of adult teeth to grow in. They usually erupt between the ages of 17 and 25, but not everyone has them. You might need to have your wisdom teeth removed if they cause pain, infection or other oral health issues.


What are wisdom teeth?

Wisdom teeth are your last set of adult teeth to grow in. Another name for wisdom teeth is “third molars,” and they’re in the very back of your mouth.

Sometimes, wisdom teeth grow in properly and never cause any trouble. But often, wisdom teeth get stuck in your gums or jawbone and don’t grow in (impacted wisdom teeth). When this happens, it can result in infection, cavities, gum disease and other oral health issues. That’s why many healthcare providers recommend removing them.

Not everyone has wisdom teeth. Some people develop them, and others don’t. Both are a variation of normal.


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Why do we have wisdom teeth?

If wisdom teeth erupt into their proper positions, they can provide support in the back of your mouth and preserve bone in your jaw. But in general, we don’t really need our wisdom teeth. In fact, most healthcare providers consider them vestigial. This means they served a purpose at one point, but don’t anymore.

Our ancestors’ primitive diet consisted of a lot of raw plants, hard nuts and tough meats — and wisdom teeth were necessary to grind these foods for proper digestion. Today, modern food preparation and eating utensils have eliminated our need for wisdom teeth. As we got used to these dietary changes, our bodies went through some small evolutionary changes. For example, our jaws became smaller. This is why many people don’t have enough room in their mouths for their wisdom teeth to grow in.


Where are my wisdom teeth located?

Wisdom teeth erupt in the very back of your mouth, just behind your second molars. People who have all four wisdom teeth have one in each quadrant — upper left, lower left, upper right and lower right.

How many wisdom teeth do you have?

One research study found that about 53% of the general population has at least one wisdom tooth. But some people never develop wisdom teeth at all.


What do wisdom teeth look like?

A wisdom tooth looks similar to any other molar. Most have two to three roots, but some can have four.

The shape of the roots can vary from person to person. Often, the roots fuse together, giving the appearance of one big, cone-shaped root. Other times, the roots can curl or splay out in different directions.

When do wisdom teeth come in?

Your wisdom teeth usually erupt (grow in) between the ages of 17 and 25. But keep in mind, you might not see fully impacted wisdom teeth when you look in your mouth.

What are the first signs of wisdom teeth coming in?

If you have a wisdom tooth coming in, there are a few telltale signs and symptoms. You may notice:

  • Redness or swelling in your gums, behind your last molars.
  • Jaw pain or tenderness.
  • Facial pain, due to wisdom teeth putting pressure on nerves.
  • White flecks behind your last molars. These spots are likely the tops of your new teeth erupting through your gums.


Conditions and Disorders

What are some conditions that affect wisdom teeth?

Some people develop complications due to impacted wisdom teeth or wisdom teeth that haven’t erupted properly. These complications may include:

What are common treatments for wisdom teeth complications?

The most common treatment is wisdom teeth removal. A dentist or oral surgeon usually does this procedure at their office while you’re under sedation. But a surgeon can also remove them under general anesthesia in a hospital when necessary.

People of any age can have their wisdom teeth removed. But to prevent future oral health complications, many people choose to remove their wisdom teeth in their late teens or early 20s.

Unlike other teeth, wisdom teeth don’t provide a lot of biting or chewing power. So, there’s no need to replace them once a provider removes them.


How can I care for my wisdom teeth?

If you still have your wisdom teeth, your dentist will check them during routine exams to make sure they’re healthy. In addition to seeing your dentist regularly, you should:

  • Brush your teeth two to three times a day. It can be difficult to reach the back surfaces of your wisdom teeth. Take your time and make sure you’re cleaning all the hard-to-reach areas.
  • Floss your teeth once a day. Use dental floss to clean between your teeth. For hard-to-reach areas, you can also use dental picks or interproximal brushes (tiny brushes that fit between your teeth).
  • Use an antibacterial mouthwash. Make sure it’s alcohol-free. This helps reduce your risk of dry mouth.

Additional Common Questions

Do you have to get your wisdom teeth removed?

No, you don’t have to remove them unless they cause issues. In fact, there are benefits of keeping wisdom teeth in some cases. To find out if you should keep your wisdom teeth, talk to your dentist.

Can wisdom teeth grow back?

No. If you remove a wisdom tooth, it can’t grow back.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Wisdom teeth are vestigial (unnecessary) features of our bodies. Removing them has become a rite of passage for many teens and young adults around the globe. But if your wisdom teeth erupt in alignment with your other teeth and don’t cause any issues, you may not need to do anything. To learn more about your wisdom teeth — and whether you should remove them — talk to your healthcare provider.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 09/12/2023.

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