Wisdom teeth are the last teeth to erupt in the mouth. They typically erupt through the gum at about age 18, behind the second molars, which is why they are also called third molars. Why are they called wisdom teeth? Because at the age of 18, a child grows into a mature and wise adult and the appearance of the third molars coincide with the attainable of wisdom, at least in theory.
Why do we have wisdom teeth when it gives so much trouble? If you believe in Creation, then it is because the Creator has designed it that way. However, if you believe in evolution, then this can be viewed as a case of dental evolution lagging behind the general evolution of the human species. As humans evolved from the apes, the jaw sizes decreased correspondingly to adjust to a more refined dietary habit. With the reduction in jaw size, the number of teeth also decreased but not enough, resulting in wisdom teeth, the last teeth to erupt, having not enough room in the jaw to erupt into.
In Singapore, many parents often ask why is it that they did not have wisdom teeth problems when they were young but now all their children are having trouble with theirs. While each case is unique with different set of reasons, in general, this could be attributed to a higher level of dental care being available to children today than in the early years of Singapore. The first molar typically erupts at about age 6, when children are still eating a lot of sweets. Coupled with relatively undeveloped brushing techniques, oral hygiene was not optimal. This often led to decay of the first molar which may require extraction. If the first molar was extracted, then there would be enough space for the wisdom tooth to come through at a later stage, thereby preventing the problems of tooth impaction.
Parents today are also more aware of such problems and children do see dentists more regularly than in the past. This also led to a higher “discovery” rate of wisdom teeth.
Paradoxically, the improved standards of dental public health and general living standards have given rise to more problems with impacted wisdom teeth.