Wisdom tooth

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Wisdom tooth
Wisdom teeth
3D CT impacted wisdom tooth.Gif
Anatomical terminology

A third molar, commonly called wisdom tooth, is one of the three molars per quadrant of the human dentition. It is the most posterior of the three. The age at which wisdom teeth come through (erupt) is variable,[1] but this generally occurs between late teens and early twenties.[2] Most adults have four wisdom teeth, one in each of the four quadrants, but it is possible to have none, one to three, or more than four, in which case the extras are called supernumerary teeth.

Wisdom teeth may get stuck (impacted)[3] against other teeth if there is not enough space for them to come through normally. Impacted wisdom teeth are still sometimes removed for orthodontic treatment, believing that they move the other teeth and cause crowding, though this is not held anymore as true.[4] Impacted wisdom teeth may suffer from tooth decay if oral hygiene becomes more difficult. Wisdom teeth which are partially erupted through the gum may also cause inflammation[3] and infection in the surrounding gum tissues, termed pericoronitis. Some more conservative treatments, such as operculectomies, may be fitting for some cases, yet impacted wisdom teeth are commonly extracted as treatment for these problems, many times before these problems even occur. Some institutions and researchers oppose this preventive removal of disease-free impacted wisdom teeth, among them the United Kingdom's National Health Service and National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.[4][5][6]


Tooth morphology[edit]

Morphology of wisdom teeth can be variable.

Maxillary (upper) third molars commonly have a triangular crown with a deep central fossa from which multiple irregular fissures originate. Their roots are commonly fused together and can be irregular in shape.

Mandibular third molars are the smallest molar teeth in the permanent dentition. The crown usually takes on a rounded rectangular shape that features four or five cusps with an irregular fissure pattern. Roots are greatly reduced in size and can be fused together.[7]

Dental notation[edit]

There are several notation systems used in dentistry to identify teeth, including the Palmer/Zsigmondy System. Under the Palmer/Zsigmondy system, the right and left maxillary wisdom teeth are represented by 8┘ and └8, whereas 8┐and ┌8  symbols are used to represent the right and left mandibular wisdom teeth. Another commonly used method of dental notation is the FDI notational system. Under this system, the right and left maxillary third molars are represented by 18 and 28 respectively and the right and left mandibular third molars are numbered as 48 and 38. According to the Universal Numbering System the right and left upper wisdom teeth are labelled 1 and 16 and the right and left lower wisdom teeth are assigned 17 and 32 respectively.


Agenesis of wisdom teeth differs by population, ranging from practically zero in Aboriginal Tasmanians to nearly 100% in indigenous Mexicans.[8][9] The difference is related to the PAX9, and MSX1 gene (and perhaps other genes).[10][11][12][13]

Age of eruption[edit]

There is significant variation between the reported age of eruption of wisdom teeth between different populations.[14] For example, wisdom teeth tend to erupt earlier in people with African heritage compared to Asian and European heritage.[14]

Generally wisdom teeth erupt most commonly between age 17 and 21.[1] Eruption may start as early as age 13 in some groups[14] and typically occurs before the age of 25.[15] If they have not erupted by age 25, oral surgeons generally consider that the tooth will not erupt spontaneously.[2]

Root development can continue for up to three years after eruption occurs.[16]


Anthropologists believe wisdom teeth were the evolutionary answer to human ancestors' hunter-gatherer diet, containing, amongst other things, coarse, rough food – like leaves, roots, nuts and meats.[17]

Clinical significance[edit]

A wisdom tooth protrudes outwards from the gumline with inflamed tissue at the back (pericoronitis; green arrow)

Wisdom teeth (often notated clinically as M3 for third molar) are the most commonly impacted teeth in the human mouth.[citation needed] Impacted wisdom teeth lead to pathology in 12% of cases.[18] Less than 2% of adults age 65 years or older maintain the teeth without cavities or periodontal disease and 13% maintain unimpacted wisdom teeth without cavities or periodontal disease.[citation needed]

Some problems which may or may not occur with third molars: A Mesio-impacted, partially erupted mandibular third molar, B Dental caries and periodontal defects associated with both the third and second molars, caused by food packing and poor access to oral hygiene methods, C Inflamed operculum covering partially erupted lower third molar, with accumulation of food debris and bacteria underneath, D The upper third molar has over-erupted due to lack of opposing tooth contact, and may start to traumatically occlude into the operculum over the lower third molar. Unopposed teeth are usually sharp because they have not been blunted by another tooth.
Dental x-ray of impacted lower left wisdom tooth with a horizontal orientation

Impacted wisdom teeth are classified by the direction and depth of impaction, the amount of available space for tooth eruption and the amount soft tissue or bone that covers them. The classification structure allows clinicians to estimate the probabilities of impaction, infections and complications associated with wisdom teeth removal.[19] Wisdom teeth are also classified by the presence of symptoms and disease.[20]

Treatment of an erupted wisdom tooth is the same as any other tooth in the mouth. If impacted and having a pathology, such as caries or pericoronitis, treatment can be dental restoration, salt water rinses, local treatment to the infected tissue overlying the impaction,[21]: 440–441  oral antibiotics, operculectomy, or if those failed, extraction or coronectomy.

Common pathologies associated with wisdom tooth[edit]

Odontogenic infections are a dental complication originating inside the tooth or in close proximity to the surrounding tissues. There are different types of odontogenic infections which may affect impacted wisdom teeth such as periodontitis, pulpitis, dental abscess and pericoronitis.

Pericoronitis is a common pathology of impacted third molar.[22] It is an acute localized infection of the tissue surrounding the impacted wisdom teeth. Clinically the tissue appears to be red, tender to touch and edematous. The common symptoms patients report are pain ‘that ranges from dull to throbbing to intense’ and often radiates to mouth, ear or floor of the mouth. Moreover, swelling of the cheek, halitosis and trismus can occur.[23]

Odontogenic cysts are a less common pathology of the impacted wisdom tooth. They are described as ‘cavities filled with liquid, semiliquid or gaseous content with odontogenic epithelial lining and connective tissue on the outside’. However, studies have found cysts to be prevalent in a small percentage of impacted wisdom teeth that are extracted. The most common types associated with impacted third molars are radicular cysts, dentigerous cysts and odontogenic keratocysts.[24]

Oral hygiene care[edit]

Practice and maintenance of good oral hygiene can help prevent and control some wisdom tooth pathologies. In addition to twice daily toothbrushing, interdental cleaning is recommended to ensure plaque build doesn’t occur in interdental areas. There are various products available for this – dental floss and interdental brushes being the most common.


Although formally known as third molars, the common name is wisdom teeth because they appear so late – much later than the other teeth, at an age where people are presumably "wiser" than as a child, when the other teeth erupt.[25] The term probably came as a translation of the Latin dens sapientiae. Their eruption has been known to cause dental issues for millennia; it was noted at least as far back as Aristotle:

The last teeth to come in man are molars called 'wisdom-teeth', which come at the age of twenty years, in the case of both sexes. Cases have been known in women upwards of eighty years old where at the very close of life the wisdom-teeth have come up, causing great pain in their coming; and cases have been known of the like phenomenon in men too. This happens, when it does happen, in the case of people where the wisdom-teeth have not come up in early years.

— Aristotle, The History of Animals[26]

The oldest known impacted wisdom tooth belonged to a European woman who lived between 13,000 and 11,000 BC in the Magdalenian period.[27] Molar impaction was relatively rare prior to the modern era. With the Industrial Revolution, the condition became 10 times more common due to the consumption of softer foods during childhood,[28] leading to smaller (shorter) jaws in the adults, without enough room for the wisdom teeth to erupt, and so, to impacted wisdom teeth.[29]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b McCoy JM (September 2012). "Complications of retention: pathology associated with retained third molars". Atlas of the Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Clinics of North America. 20 (2): 177–95. doi:10.1016/j.cxom.2012.06.002. ISBN 978-1455747887. PMID 23021395.
  2. ^ a b Swift JQ, Nelson WJ (September 2012). "The nature of third molars: are third molars different than other teeth?". Atlas of the Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Clinics of North America. 20 (2): 159–62. doi:10.1016/j.cxom.2012.07.003. PMID 23021392.
  3. ^ a b "Wisdom Teeth And Orthodontic Treatment: Should I be worried?". Orthodontics Australia. 2020-01-25. Retrieved 2020-11-19.
  4. ^ a b Friedman JW (September 2007). "The prophylactic extraction of third molars: a public health hazard". American Journal of Public Health. 97 (9): 1554–9. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2006.100271. PMC 1963310. PMID 17666691.
  5. ^ "1 Guidance | Guidance on the Extraction of Wisdom Teeth | Guidance | NICE". www.nice.org.uk. Retrieved 2019-12-03.
  6. ^ "Opposition to Prophylactic Removal of Third Molars (Wisdom Teeth)". www.apha.org. Retrieved 2019-12-02.
  7. ^ Berkovitz BK, Holland GR, Moxham BJ (2017). Oral Anatomy, Histology and Embryology fifth edition. Elsevier. pp. 25–26.
  8. ^ Rozkovcová E, Marková M, Dolejsí J (1999). "Studies on agenesis of third molars amongst populations of different origin". Sbornik Lekarsky. 100 (2): 71–84. PMID 11220165.
  9. ^ Sujon MK, Alam MK, Rahman SA (2016-08-31). "Prevalence of Third Molar Agenesis: Associated Dental Anomalies in Non-Syndromic 5923 Patients". PLOS ONE. 11 (8): e0162070. Bibcode:2016PLoSO..1162070S. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0162070. PMC 5006966. PMID 27580050.
  10. ^ Pereira TV, Salzano FM, Mostowska A, Trzeciak WH, Ruiz-Linares A, Chies JA, et al. (April 2006). "Natural selection and molecular evolution in primate PAX9 gene, a major determinant of tooth development". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 103 (15): 5676–81. Bibcode:2006PNAS..103.5676P. doi:10.1073/pnas.0509562103. JSTOR 30050159. PMC 1458632. PMID 16585527.
  11. ^ Bonczek O, Balcar VJ, Šerý O (November 2017). "PAX9 gene mutations and tooth agenesis: A review". Clinical Genetics. 92 (5): 467–476. doi:10.1111/cge.12986. PMID 28155232. S2CID 29589974.
  12. ^ Lidral AC, Reising BC (April 2002). "The role of MSX1 in human tooth agenesis". Journal of Dental Research. 81 (4): 274–8. doi:10.1177/154405910208100410. PMC 2731714. PMID 12097313.
  13. ^ Tallón-Walton V, Manzanares-Céspedes MC, Carvalho-Lobato P, Valdivia-Gandur I, Arte S, Nieminen P (May 2014). "Exclusion of PAX9 and MSX1 mutation in six families affected by tooth agenesis. A genetic study and literature review". Medicina Oral, Patologia Oral y Cirugia Bucal. 19 (3): e248-54. doi:10.4317/medoral.19173. PMC 4048113. PMID 24316698.
  14. ^ a b c Tsokos M (2008). Forensic Pathology Reviews 5. Springer Science & Business Media. p. 281. ISBN 9781597451109.
  15. ^ "Wisdom Teeth". American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons. Retrieved 2019-11-19. They come in between the ages of 17 and 25, a time of life that has been called the “Age of Wisdom.”
  16. ^ Kaveri GS, Prakash S (June 2012). "Third molars: a threat to periodontal health??". Journal of Maxillofacial and Oral Surgery. 11 (2): 220–3. doi:10.1007/s12663-011-0286-x. PMC 3386422. PMID 23730073.
  17. ^ Cooper R (February 5, 2007). "Why Do We Have Wisdom Teeth?". Scienceline.org. Archived from the original on 2016-05-03.
  18. ^ Stanley HR, Alattar M, Collett WK, Stringfellow HR, Spiegel EH (March 1988). "Pathological sequelae of "neglected" impacted third molars". Journal of Oral Pathology. 17 (3): 113–7. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0714.1988.tb01896.x. PMID 3135372.
  19. ^ Juodzbalys G, Daugela P (July 2013). "Mandibular third molar impaction: review of literature and a proposal of a classification". Journal of Oral & Maxillofacial Research. 4 (2): e1. doi:10.5037/jomr.2013.4201. PMC 3886113. PMID 24422029.
  20. ^ Dodson TB (September 2012). "The management of the asymptomatic, disease-free wisdom tooth: removal versus retention". Atlas of the Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Clinics of North America. 20 (2): 169–76. doi:10.1016/j.cxom.2012.06.005. PMID 23021394.
  21. ^ Newman MG, Takei HH, Klokkevold PR, Carranza FA (2012). Carranza's Clinical Periodontology. Elsevier Saunders. ISBN 978-1-4377-0416-7.
  22. ^ López-Píriz R, Aguilar L, Giménez MJ (March 2007). "Management of odontogenic infection of pulpal and periodontal origin". Medicina Oral, Patologia Oral y Cirugia Bucal. 12 (2): E154-9. PMID 17322806.
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  24. ^ Borrás-Ferreres J, Sánchez-Torres A, Gay-Escoda C (December 2016). "Malignant changes developing from odontogenic cysts: A systematic review". Journal of Clinical and Experimental Dentistry. 8 (5): e622–e628. doi:10.4317/jced.53256. PMC 5149102. PMID 27957281.
  25. ^ "Wisdom tooth". Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1989. ISBN 0-19-861186-2.
  26. ^ Aristotle (2015). The History of Animals. Translated by D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson. Aeterna Press. p. 49.
  27. ^ "Magdalenian Girl is a woman and therefore has oldest recorded case of impacted wisdom teeth" (Press release). Field Museum of Natural History. March 7, 2006. Retrieved February 15, 2013.
  28. ^ "What teeth reveal about the lives of modern humans". Retrieved 2018-10-22.
  29. ^ von Cramon-Taubadel N (December 2011). "Global human mandibular variation reflects differences in agricultural and hunter-gatherer subsistence strategies". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 108 (49): 19546–51. Bibcode:2011PNAS..10819546V. doi:10.1073/pnas.1113050108. PMC 3241821. PMID 22106280.

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