Why the Wisdom Teeth Come In So Late

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Medically reviewed by Othman Lahmaydi, RDH

Teeth are classified based on function and placement. The flatter teeth in your mouth are molars, and adults grow three sets of these, each with four teeth on the bottom, top, and sides. Your wisdom teeth are the third set of molars, which come in at the back of your mouth, often emerging from the ages of 17 to 25. But why do wisdom teeth come in so late in life?

Wisdom teeth don’t emerge until you’re older because as a child, your jaw isn’t developed enough to accommodate them. Even some adults don’t have jaws big enough for wisdom teeth, which is one reason why removal might be necessary. Kids also don’t need them, as they eat less than adults in general.

Growing wisdom teeth can affect your oral health, as the teeth can cause problems if there’s insufficient space when they come in. Also, they can come out in the wrong position. However, many people have their wisdom teeth emerge without issues.

What Are Wisdom Teeth?

Wisdom teeth are a set of molars that grow at the back of your mouth. Often, they emerge in people at the ages between 17 and 25. That’s why they’re called wisdom teeth — because they appear when you’re older, presumably with a semblance of wisdom.

When they come in, you get two on the bottom and two on top to form a complete set of 32 teeth. The teeth can get stuck under the gum, or lack enough space to come out, which provokes discomfort and pain. However, many people don’t have problems when their wisdom teeth emerge. 

Like any other type of tooth, as wisdom teeth can also decay or form cavities, so you need to take care of them by following your regular routine. Wisdom teeth fall under the category of molars, which are the widest teeth you use to grind food. Note that some people don’t have all their wisdom teeth to begin with. It’s common to have less than four.

One would argue that human jaws have evolved over the years alongside our diets. You might have noticed wisdom teeth are among the teeth people take out the most. This is because you’re more likely to encounter issues with these teeth than other types. 

Why Do Wisdom Teeth Come In Later?

Portrait of young girl closed eyes arm on cheek suffer from teeth pain bad mood isolated on purple color background

Typically, wisdom teeth will not come in until the age of 17 to 25. This is the reason people call them wisdom teeth, as you expect them to come in when you’re older and presumably wiser.

One of the reasons wisdom teeth take long to come in lies in child development. When growing up as a child, you don’t have enough space on the jaw to accommodate the teeth. 

As you grow, so does your jaw, creating more room for the teeth to emerge. Many people don’t get enough space on their jaw to allow the teeth to come out without issues. This is why it’s common for people to remove wisdom teeth. 

The other reason it takes longer to grow wisdom teeth is because you don’t need them when you’re younger. Normally, most people don’t lose molars when younger, so wisdom teeth will wait until adulthood before they emerge.

Experts argue that humans may no longer have wisdom teeth in the future. They could disappear from our anatomy because the human diet doesn’t include the rough plants, nuts, meat, and seeds that our ancestors ate. 

Why Do We Have Wisdom Teeth?

There’s an important reason humans grow wisdom teeth despite the fact they’re not really necessary. To most people, these teeth are quite a mystery, as they end up getting pulled after coming out later in life.

While the teeth are a part of dentistry that modern humans dread, their function dates back to the days of our early ancestors. 

Our ancestors’ diet was composed of raw meat, roots, nuts, leaves, and berries. Early humans didn’t have the luxury of using tools like knives to prepare food, so even cooking meat to tenderize it wasn’t an option.

They had to chew the tough and rugged foods, so they needed a broad jaw and strong molars. These molars included wisdom teeth, vital to help our ancestors eat raw foods they needed for survival. 

The larger jaw of our ancestors provided enough room to accommodate wisdom teeth. Fast forward, we’re in the 21st century, and humans no longer have to chew tough meat and roots for survival. However, it hasn’t been long enough for our evolution to reshape our jaws and eliminate wisdom teeth.

This is why some people have to get their wisdom teeth pulled, as they come out and cause problems despite not being necessary for survival today. 

Should Everyone Get Their Wisdom Teeth Removed?

Man after an operation to remove wisdom teeth

It’s not necessary to remove wisdom teeth, unless they’re causing discomfort and pain, which is the common reason people get them pulled.

Most people get them removed because they don’t have sufficient space in their mouths for the teeth to fit. Wisdom teeth can be removed if you have swollen gums, crooked teeth, jaw pain, tooth decay, and tumors or cysts under the gum. 

Some dentists encourage patients to get their wisdom teeth removed if the teeth don’t fully emerge. Sometimes, the teeth will remain hidden within the gums, which can result in infections or trigger cysts that could damage bone support or other teeth roots.

Also, if the wisdom teeth partially emerge, they can offer a passageway for bacteria that could cause oral infection. 

Lots of dentists also remove wisdom teeth as a preventative measure against any future pain.


Wisdom teeth are a result of years of evolution, as our ancestors needed them to chew tough meat, roots, leaves, and other types of food available to them. While modern humans still grow wisdom teeth, they’re not necessary to our survival, as our diet has improved. If the teeth are causing problems, you can get them pulled out. 

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