Does Everyone Have Wisdom Teeth?

Wisdom Teeth Aren’t Guaranteed

May 21, 2024 Written By: Joyce Kahng, DDS

Do those aching gums and weird sensations in the back of your mouth have you wondering if your wisdom teeth are coming in? Or maybe you’re just curious if everyone goes through this rite of passage. While wisdom teeth are a common part of growing up, they’re not a given for everyone.

Below is helpful information about who gets wisdom teeth, why they sometimes cause trouble, and how to figure out if you’re part of the lucky group that might never have to deal with them.

What Are Wisdom Teeth?

Also known as third molars, wisdom teeth are the last set of molars to develop, typically emerging in your late teens or early twenties. Historically, these extra teeth were useful for our ancestors who had to chew tough, unprocessed foods like roots and raw meat. However, modern diets are much softer, and our jaws have gotten smaller over time—leaving less room for these late bloomers.

This often leads to overcrowding, causing wisdom teeth to become impacted (stuck in the gums or jawbone) or erupt at awkward angles, potentially causing pain, infection, or damage to neighboring teeth.

The Genetics of Wisdom Teeth

Whether or not you develop wisdom teeth is largely determined by your genes. Just like you inherit your eye color or hair type, you can inherit a predisposition to develop wisdom teeth (or not). In fact, some people carry “missing tooth genes” that prevent the formation of wisdom teeth altogether.

Interestingly, research suggests that populations with different ancestral diets may have varying rates of wisdom tooth development. For instance, some Indigenous populations with historically softer diets are more likely to have missing or reduced wisdom teeth compared to populations with traditionally tougher diets. This highlights how our genes, shaped by our evolutionary history, continue to influence our dental development today.

Not Everyone Gets a Full Set

Contrary to popular belief, having all four wisdom teeth isn’t the standard. Many people have fewer than four, and some have none at all. It’s a bit like a dental lottery—you might get one, two, three, or none at all.

Additionally, wisdom teeth don’t always erupt at the same time or even at the same age. Some people might experience their first wisdom tooth in their late teens, while others might not see any signs until their twenties, or even later. There’s also a chance that your wisdom teeth are lurking beneath the surface, even if they haven’t caused any noticeable symptoms.

The bottom line is that wisdom tooth development is highly individual and varies widely from person to person.

How Do I Know If I Have Wisdom Teeth?

The emergence of wisdom teeth is a gradual process, and it’s not always accompanied by obvious signs or symptoms. While some people experience pain, swelling, or discomfort in the back of their mouth, others might not feel anything at all. That’s why it’s important to be proactive about checking for wisdom teeth, even if you haven’t noticed any changes in your mouth.

The most reliable way to determine if you have wisdom teeth is to visit your dentist for a panoramic X-ray. This specialized X-ray provides a comprehensive view of your entire mouth, including your teeth, jawbone, and surrounding structures. It allows your dentist to see if wisdom teeth are present, how they’re positioned, and if they’re likely to cause problems down the line.

Typically, wisdom teeth start to emerge between the ages of 17 and 25. However, this is just a general guideline, and the timing can vary significantly from person to person. Some individuals might get their first wisdom tooth as early as 15, while others might not experience any signs until their late twenties or even later.

Even if you’re past this typical age range and haven’t experienced any symptoms, it’s still worth getting checked. Remember, wisdom teeth can remain hidden beneath the gums, lurking silently without causing any immediate trouble. However, they could still pose potential risks in the future, such as impaction, infection, or damage to neighboring teeth.

By getting a panoramic X-ray, you can get a clear picture of your wisdom teeth situation and make informed decisions about your oral health. If your dentist identifies any potential issues, they can discuss your options for monitoring or treatment, such as prophylactic removal to prevent future complications.

What If I Don’t Have Wisdom Teeth?

Consider yourself one of the lucky ones! If you’re among the minority of people who don’t develop wisdom teeth, you can breathe a sigh of relief. Not having these third molars means you won’t have to worry about painful eruptions, the need for extractions, or the potential complications associated with impacted or misaligned wisdom teeth.

Without wisdom teeth, you also have a lower risk of experiencing crowding or bite problems later in life. These extra molars can sometimes push against your other teeth, causing them to shift out of alignment and potentially affecting your bite. Additionally, you won’t have to worry about the potential for infection or cysts that can develop around impacted wisdom teeth.

While not having wisdom teeth is undoubtedly an advantage, it doesn’t mean you can neglect your oral health. Maintaining good dental hygiene is crucial for everyone, regardless of their wisdom tooth status. Make sure to brush twice a day, floss daily, and visit your dentist for regular checkups and cleanings. By taking care of your teeth and gums, you can ensure a healthy and beautiful smile for years to come.

If you’re unsure whether or not you have wisdom teeth, or if you have any concerns about your oral health, don’t hesitate to talk to your dentist. They can provide personalized advice based on your specific situation and help you make informed decisions about your dental care.

Wisdom Teeth Aren’t Guaranteed

Wisdom teeth are a fascinating and variable aspect of human dental development. Whether you’re blessed with their absence or grappling with their presence, understanding their potential impact on your oral health is key. By staying informed and working with your dentist, you can ensure your smile remains healthy and radiant for years to come.

Smile Smarter,
Dr. Joyce

Logo(0) / Huffpost / - Dr. JoyceLogo(1) / Newsweek / - Dr. JoyceLogo(2) / Insider / - Dr. JoyceLogo(3) / Bustle / - Dr. JoyceLogo(4) / Mic / - Dr. JoyceLogo(5) / Well + Good / - Dr. JoyceLogo(6) / Popsugar / - Dr. JoyceLogo(7) / US News / - Dr. Joyce