Wisdom teeth are the third of the molar teeth. They come at around age 18 to 20.
If wisdom simply come through like all other teeth as assume a position in the bite, there are no accompanying problems. The typical problems with wisdom teeth occur due to space restrictions in the jaw bones. This causes the wisdom teeth to either come half way through, or to not come through at all. These are called impacted wisdom teeth, and they can cause problems.
A modern problem?
So why do so many of us have jaws that are too small to support all the teeth? One theory is that small jaws are a result of the softer diets that humans have consumed since farming began around 12,000 years ago. Bones enlarge and become dense when muscles are at their most active during the growth stages of life. With a softer diet, jaw muscles are less active and therefore the jaws are less likely to assume their full size potential, with the result being not enough room to accommodate all of the teeth. This theory was put forward as a result of a study of 295 human jawbone specimens which observed smaller jawbones in agricultural societies compared with their hunter-gatherer counterparts. Subsequent animal experiments have also proven that softer diets produce smaller jaws so the theory seems quite plausible. It also explains orthodontic crowding problems.
Is treatment needed?
If a wisdom tooth is stuck completely within the jaw bone, often treatment is not needed and simple x-rays every so often are all that is needed to ensure no problems are developing such as cyst formation or resorption (dissolving) of root surfaces on neighbouring teeth.
The worst situation is when a wisdom tooth is partially erupted, or stuck half way through before it runs out of room. These teeth are prone to infection under the large areas of gum tissue that cover them. This is called pericoronitis and is responsible for the painful horror stories we all hear about.
Treatment unfortunately involves surgery to remove the problematic teeth. The good news is, that once dealt with, the problem is gone for ever.