Your first taste of freedom spins underneath your fingers as you turn the wheel of the car, as a newly licensed driver. You wear your first formal attire for prom, and 18 finally arrives— you’re an adult. Next is 21, where I learned red wine, white wine, salsa and cheese don’t mix.
Beyond the legal drinking age, we wait for the ripe “old” age of 30. Between those special ages there are smaller rites of passage — like your wisdom teeth growing in and then getting them out asap. Life is filled with rites of passage we use to mark our transitions through life, and those little transitions are sometimes the most dreaded.
My Wisdom Teeth Myths
Wisdom teeth are supposed to come out. We are told that from a young age, but is it really necessary? Will you take a mini machete to my gums? These were the questions I had when I felt something weird and bulky growing in through the edges of my gums. It was a matter of time. For many, oral surgery is their first experience with surgery, and I wasn’t eager to reunite with the tooth fairy.
Shouldn’t all this be done once my age entered the double digits? I wasn’t exactly charming when I was teething — I was a little nightmare for my parents. Sorry, Mom and Dad.
I wasn’t exactly afraid of the dentist, but I could imagine blood running down my chin and someone twisting pliers around in my mouth, yanking the teeth out. My earliest memories of dentist visits consisted of feeling like I was abducted by aliens when operated on. There was always the bright overhead light, the sharp shiny tools and scary suction noises.
Baby teeth are easy. You lose those, and you get a dollar back. Maybe Uncle Joe or Big Brother Jamie wraps a string around your tooth, ties it to a door knob and lets the door fly on a stubborn one (Ouch!). But the tooth fairy helps you out with a little extra moolah for more candy and video games. When losing your wisdom teeth, you get a different kind of bill. Thanks, doc.
They’re Called “Wisdom Teeth,” but Where’s the Wisdom?
Obviously, having your wisdom teeth removed doesn’t mean you’re losing your wisdom, but why are they called that? Apparently, it all started in the seventeenth century, when third molars were called “teeth of wisdom.” These suckers emerge from your gums between the age of 17 and 25.
Some researchers think the brain reaches complete maturity at age 25. So, when you’re going through a quarter-life crisis, you’re a real adult?
Do they really have to come out? Who were these monsters who wanted to take my “wisdom?” It felt like I was being called to join Peter Pan’s Lost Boys, but maybe that wouldn’t be so bad.
When you don’t have enough room for third molars to come in, it’s true that wisdom teeth can impact the mouth, but the opinion that wisdom teeth “crowd” out your other teeth is not in favor anymore. Some dentists still believe the latter, though. Sometimes, wisdom teeth don’t grow in, and when they do grow in, they don’t cause issues for a small number of people. Wisdom teeth aren’t so wise — they’re downright confusing and annoying as a right of passage.
Wisdom Teeth Are Not Walnuts
I got my wisdom teeth out around the time I started my first full-time job right out of college, thankfully. I was 23. When the time came to reunite with the tooth fairy, I had a corporate fairy godmother to pay up.
Thankfully, my lower third molars would grow in even and seemed not to affect the function of my jaw or give me any pain. The dentist tried to convince me to get them out, but fortunately, those were the exception to the “Wisdom teeth must always come out” myth. My top third molars were a different ball game — I was advised to get those out.
They had to numb me twice, three times on one side — I must have super powers. When you get your wisdom teeth out, you don’t taste anything, but your sense of touch thickens like the air is filled with fog. I was more aware of every surgical instrument that touched parts of my mouth.
The left came out with relative ease. The right side was a stubborn third molar. I faintly heard the “pliers” crunch, and I felt cracking. My wisdom tooth’s not a walnut, doc!
I was panicking in my seat, eyes wide, and the oral surgeon nodded reassuringly. He told me to hang in there. The grip on the tooth was too much — my mind drifted to dreams of my teeth cracking in my mouth, all gums and no bite.
He finally got the right out, and I realized that aliens hadn't abducted me, nor was blood trailing down my chin. I was alive, and my face felt heavy and swollen, especially on the three shot side.
Then, he asked me if I want to keep my wisdom teeth. Sure… That was a major surprise. When I got to the car, I looked at the wisdom teeth in the sealed bag. The teeth don’t have any plier marks, but are clean and polished, coming to a fine point at the end where they had grown in my gums.
Perhaps the top wisdom teeth wouldn’t have erupted. Perhaps they would have grown all the way and never bothered me. There are always exceptions to the rules, but you should never let someone tell you what to do, either, without enough research.
When I go to the dentist for my regular cleaning, I still feel a little like I’m being abducted by aliens, but I haven’t noticed any change in my level of wisdom. Remember, wisdom comes with age.