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When wisdom teeth need to go

A dental hygienist holds a pick and mirror near a smiling young man in a dental chair

Though wisdom teeth don't affect your IQ, it's smart to know what they are and when they could cause problems for you.

Wisdom teeth usually emerge when a person is between 17 and 21 years old. They are also called third molars.

Some people never get wisdom teeth. And for many of those who do, the event is no big deal. Others may have pain and other, more serious problems.

Wisdom teeth cause problems when there isn't enough room for them to grow in. They may become impacted, which means they can't emerge all the way. Or they may grow in crooked and damage nearby teeth.

According to the American Dental Association, your dentist may recommend that you have your wisdom teeth removed if:

  • They emerge from the gums only partway. When this happens, bacteria may infect the area around the tooth, resulting in pain, swelling, jaw stiffness and other problems.
  • Your wisdom teeth are growing out of alignment and might damage other teeth.
  • A cyst forms. A cyst can destroy bone and the roots of your teeth.

If you have questions about your wisdom teeth and whether they might cause problems for you, talk to your dentist.

Reviewed 9/22/2021

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