Wisdom teeth: function, common problems and treatment

Wisdom teeth: function, common problems and treatment

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Adult people can have up to 32 teeth. They usually come out between the ages of 17 and 25, although sometimes they surface years later. Most people have four wisdom teeth, some have fewer, and a few have none at all.

People often have no space for 32 teeth in their jaws, but only for 28. So when the other teeth have grown healthily, there is no more room for the wisdom teeth to break through the surface. However, most wisdom teeth pose no problems - as long as they stay deep in the jaw without pushing up and saliva and food do not contaminate them.

Wisdom Teeth: A Rudiment of Evolution

Wisdom teeth arise because the jaw space became too small at some point in our evolution. That is why they break out in places where there is no more space for them. This can lead to inflammation. In addition to wisdom teeth, the braces that children and adolescents often have to wear to line up their teeth are due to our smaller jaws.

While human civilization had the advantage of being able to control the environment, biological evolution often failed to keep up. One rule of evolution is: It works with the existing material, reshapes organs for new purposes - down to the elephant's nose, with which he also eats his food. And it regresses large organs if they don't offer survival benefits.

Oversized organs mean an immense amount of energy, teeth and jaws need calories, vitamins and minerals. Not only was the jaw getting smaller, the bones were also getting weaker. With the end of life as a hunter and gatherer, strong bones were no longer vital.

Our ancestors had much larger jaws than we did, which allowed them to chew food from nuts, roots, raw meat, and raw vegetables. The fire created a kind of second set of teeth and tools were added to cut the food into bite-sized bites. Cooking, roasting and grilling detached the raw meat from the bones and softened it: we no longer needed teeth to chew coarse-grained plants. The wisdom teeth, a third pair of molars, were probably just there before.

Interplay of biology and culture

In humans, there was probably a biosocial interplay between his body and his culturally developed behavior. Constant chewing not only requires large jaws with enough space for your teeth, it also promotes them. Crushed and overcooked food, however, meant that these mechanical stimuli failed and the jaw shrank.

Humans have a typical all-over bite, with three pairs of effective molars being typical of plant eaters that grind their food. Presumably, our jaws receded as our brain grew. The skull and the back of the head had to grow, and that was only possible if the jaw fell back. Our relatives, chimpanzees and gorillas, have much stronger jaws (and smaller brains) than we do.

The museum in the body

Like the tailbone, rudiment of a tail, the appendage of the appendix or the little fifth toe with which monkeys shimmy through trees, wisdom teeth are rudiments of evolution. This is also supported by the fact that 35% of the people are born without them.

It is also a relic in that these teeth often do not grow “properly”. The crown only partially protrudes, and a tissue pocket forms in which food remnants get caught. In addition, the opposite tooth is usually missing, and this is necessary for a tooth to grow in the correct position for a bite. Without this corrective it continues to grow.

Something has changed recently - dental hygiene and dentistry. A hundred years ago, farmers and workers still had molars, died or had to be pulled. Wisdom teeth were then useful to compensate for these gaps. Simple toothpaste counteracts this today as well as effective dentures, filled holes and bridges.

Well over a million operations a year make this evolutionary shortcoming one of the most common surgical procedures.

Discomfort when growing

Wisdom teeth regularly check dentists with X-rays. If wisdom teeth develop normally, grow straight up, function normally and do not interfere with the other teeth, there is no reason to remove them.

Unfortunately, wisdom teeth usually grow in the wrong place and at the wrong angle. Impaired wisdom teeth are then a paradise for bacteria and food residues accumulate in the gaps they created. It is difficult to clean and infections are common.

Studies showed that the overall condition of the teeth improved significantly after wisdom teeth were removed. However, wound healing after removing infected wisdom teeth is complicated, so many dentists advise removing these teeth before they get sick.

No wisdom teeth

Evolution never stands still. Today in western countries from generation to generation more and more people are born without wisdom teeth or develop wisdom teeth in life. We experience evolution as before our eyes.

Wisdom teeth infections

60% of all people have experience with one or more ingrown wisdom teeth, and repeated infections are usually the reason to have them removed. Such infections can be very painful and have serious consequences. They can spread uncontrollably into the face and swell enormously. The swelling may make it impossible for people to open their mouths.

If this is the case, the infection must come under control before the tooth can be removed. Wisdom teeth infections are potential time bombs - if the infection spreads in the head area, it can even become life-threatening.

Symptoms of wisdom teeth infection

The most common sign of infection is pain that comes from the infected region. We don't necessarily have to feel the pain the most there. Through the nerve impulses we feel pain in the entire jaw, neck or throat and even get a headache.

The pain may include swelling of the lymph nodes, swelling of the face and swollen jaw, as well as bad taste in the mouth and bad breath. Eating can also be difficult.

An infected tooth is serious and can be difficult to treat. Wisdom teeth are often covered with gums, even when an infection begins.

Pressure on the paranasal sinus

Wisdom teeth can cause discomfort in the sinuses, but this rarely happens. Symptoms include headache and fatigue. This happens when wisdom teeth grow in the upper jaw, because they sit far behind in the mouth directly under the paranasal sinuses. As the teeth grow and develop their roots, they can bump against the sinuses, causing pressure and causing a headache. Around 85% of all wisdom teeth have to be removed.

Prevent infection of the wisdom teeth

Regular visits to the dentist are the best preventive measure against infections on the wisdom teeth, because such an infection does not start overnight. A reputable dentist recognizes long before something catches fire whether a wisdom tooth grows problematically and thus leads to an infection in the long run.

As with all dental infections, dental hygiene is also good prevention. First of all, brush your teeth with a soft toothbrush at least twice a day. Antiifectious mouthwashes at least once a day are also good prevention.

Dental floss

Especially with wisdom teeth, cleaning with dental floss is also necessary. Due to their location and their extraordinary growth, a particularly large amount of food and bacteria deposits form around the wisdom teeth. Dental floss also removes this deposit between the teeth in areas where the toothbrush cannot get into.

Home remedies for infected wisdom teeth

Expressly: Infected wisdom teeth are a case for the dentist and mostly also for the oral surgeon. Home remedies can only alleviate the pain, but not literally tackle the infection at the root.


Salt is an important means. It reduces inflammation on the gums and slows their spread. You can either apply table salt directly to the infected area or rinse your mouth with salt water. Make sure that the water also reaches the infected area.

You can also sprinkle salt on a soft toothbrush to gently brush your tooth and infected gums. Avoid excessive pressure as this causes additional pain.


An old home remedy for toothache and tooth infections is clove. In addition to salt, this is the first choice if you have acute complaints and do not immediately get a doctor's appointment. Carnation has an anesthetic effect and at the same time works against bacteria and infections. So you kill two birds with one stone and also get the product in every supermarket.

You don't have to buy expensive clove oil. In the spice section you will find clove powder and / or dried flower stems. Both work. They can dissolve or chew the powder in water and bring it to the inflamed area with the tongue and saliva. Or you can mix it into a paste and apply it precisely to the infection with a cotton swab.

The taste is not for everyone, clove powder tastes bitter and burns a bit in the mouth. However, it has no side effects and you can always pull it back and forth with the saliva in your mouth when the pain returns.

Garlic and onions

Garlic and onions counteract inflammation and reduce the spread of bacteria. Both are excellent for preventing an infection from occurring at all. The shortcoming is the intense smell, which can be contained by enjoying parsley at the same time.

It is best to just chew raw fresh garlic or raw onions. You can also briefly boil onions and drink the onion juice. It is even better to squeeze onions in a juicer and take the raw juice. You can also drizzle concentrated garlic oil onto the infected area.

Peppermint and sage

Peppermint is an excellent addition to onions and garlic because it has a slightly narcotic and antibacterial effect. But that's not the only reason it is included in toothpaste. The positive side effect of using garlic and peppermint for toothache is: The fragrance of peppermint keeps the exhaustion of the garlic within limits.

Sage is also anti-infectious and slightly anesthetic. It is best to boil fresh or dried sage leaves for a tea and drink it lukewarm so that it gets on the infected area. Or, even better: you chew fresh sage leaves and direct the saliva to the infection.

To prevent infections, you should regularly drink fresh peppermint tea and / or use mint in dishes.

Chilled tea bags, which they put directly on the infection in the mouth, are an insider tip. To do this, boil a cup of hot water, put a tea bag in it and then put the cup in the fridge. When the water has cooled, remove the sachet and place it directly on the aching gums. A tea bag containing cloves or peppermint is ideal.

Generally helps relieve the pain of inflammation, and to reduce swelling, cold. However, you should not let ice-cold water flow directly onto your tooth. This initially triggers additional pain in the nerves. It is better to put a bag of ice cubes on the outside of the jaw and let it work.

Alcohol is only recommended to a limited extent. High-proof alcohol anesthetizes and is therefore well suited to reduce the pain. First of all, however, you should not drink the Doppelkorn or vodka, but only with the saliva over the infected area. But since the alcohol also gets into the body through the mucous membranes of the mouth, you will get drunk sooner or later. This can lead to problems if dental surgery is the order of the day, because many dental anesthetics are incompatible with alcohol.

The following applies to all of these home remedies: Infected wisdom teeth cause hellish pain. You can only alleviate these with home remedies, but not remove them.

Wisdom teeth removal

If a wisdom tooth is regularly in the row of teeth, it can be easily removed. The upper jaw bones are less compact than those in the lower jaw, making it easier to extract teeth there.

The removal is done under local anesthesia by a dentist, but usually by an oral or maxillofacial surgeon. General anesthesia is possible in particularly difficult operations. The incision is made on the alveolar ridge.

First the bone or tooth is exposed, then the bone covering the tooth is milled away. Surgical sutures close the wound.

After the operation, there is great pain at the wound site, the patient is given pain medication for several days until the wound heals. This must not be aspirin, as it promotes blood flow. Sometimes an antibiotic is also announced, for example if there is a risk of infection due to a large interface.

Complications include bruising, difficulty opening and swallowing your mouth, and infection of the jawbone. Bleeding is possible, as is a fracture of the lower jaw.

How do you behave after the operation?

Even if it is difficult because the mouth smells bad and there is scab like blood in the mouth - do not rinse your mouth in the first days after the operation, because rinsing hinders the healing process.

Avoid alcohol, it inhibits blood clotting, this also applies to coffee and cigarettes. On the day of surgery, you should only eat soups and porridge.

Rinse no, brush your teeth yes. Only avoid the wound area during cleaning in the first few days. Avoid intensive sports and heavy physical work. Rising blood pressure can trigger rebleeding. (Somayeh Ranjbar)
Professional supervision: Barbara Schindewolf-Lensch (doctor)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • M. Kunkel et al .: S2k Guideline Operative Removal of Wisdom Teeth, German Society for Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery (DGMKG), German Society for Dental, Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery (DGZMK), (accessed September 5, 2019), AWMF
  • Jochen Jackowski, Hajo Peters, Frank Hölzle: Dental surgery, Springer Verlag, 1st edition, 2017
  • Thomas Weber: Memorix Zahnmedizin, Thieme Verlag, 5th edition, 2017

Video: Wisdom Tooth Pain and Advice (July 2022).


  1. Cruadhlaoich

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  2. Bamuro

    Now all is clear, many thanks for the information.

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  5. Jordan


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