The last teeth to develop and erupt into the jaws are called the third molars. Third molars usually erupt in the late teen years, which coincides with passage into adulthood and is referred to by some as the age of wisdom; hence "wisdom teeth".
Wisdom teeth used to serve a useful purpose, but are now considered vestigial organs. A vestige is a degenerative or imperfectly formed organ or structure which no longer performs a useful function. Wisdom teeth have become "outdated" for many reasons. Our ancestors diet was made up of far coarser food than our own and a lack of hygiene meant that impurities such as dirt and sand were consumed regularly. This caused teeth to abrade significantly which meant they took up less space in the jaw. Permanent teeth were also frequently lost at an early age, which would create more space in the jaw. Due to the coarseness of the food it was harder to chew and the jaw itself would develop into a larger bone as it was working much harder. All of these factors would create more space for the wisdom teeth when they came in.
If removal of the wisdom teeth is necessary, the procedure is recommended in the late teenage years, before the roots are completely formed. Surgical procedures in general are better tolerated when one is young and healthy, and the gum tissues tend to heal better and more predictably when young. Most people experience minimal disruption of their normal routines, and time off from work or school is usually minimal. At this point it is worth noting that the removal of wisdom teeth can be of great benefit to your ultimate oral and general health.
Wisdom teeth can be extremely problematic and more often than not I advise patients to have their wisdom teeth removed. However, not everyone has problems with their wisdom teeth. If you're genetically lucky, the jaws are long enough to accommodate the wisdom teeth in a proper erupted position. In this position, if they can be kept clean, they may be used.
How and where your wisdom teeth are removed depends on whether your wisdom teeth are erupted or impacted and how deep the roots are. Surgery may take place in your dentist's or oral surgeon's office rather than in a surgical center or hospital. Your dentist or oral surgeon will review the recommended procedure with you so that you are comfortable with the procedure from the very beginning. You will also be given information about eating, medication, rest, driving, and other considerations for the periods before and after surgery.
Immediately after surgery your body sends blood to nourish the tooth socket and the healing process begins. Simple pressure from a piece of gauze should control the bleeding and help a blood clot to form in the socket. After surgery, you will rest while under close observation as you recover from the anesthetic. Once your doctor is satisfied with your recovery you will be able to go home and relax. Within a day or two, soft tissue begins to fill in the socket, aided by the blood clot. In time, the bone surrounding the socket begins to grow, eventually filling in the socket completely.
It is possible for you to heal more quickly and avoid complications by simply following the instructions that your dentist or oral surgeon gives you. However, if you experience excessive bleeding or swelling, persistent and severe pain, fever, or if you experience any reaction to medications, please do not hesitate to call your dentist for further advice. A follow-up examination may also be scheduled to make sure that the socket is healing properly and that your mouth is returning to a normal, healthy state.