The Nature of Third Molars: Are Third Molars Different than Other Teeth?

Although third molars have similarities with other teeth in the dental arch, in particular molars, they are significantly different in many important ways. They have less functionality than other teeth, are less likely to erupt and contribute to the mastication of food, and have a greater frequency and severity of disease compared with other teeth in the dental arch.

Wisdom teeth are named, third molars , because they are the third molar to develop distally in the dental arch sequentially and are the third molar in each of the 4 dental quadrants to erupt. Some languages use alternative terms for third molars. Terms for third molars from various languages include

  • English— wisdom tooth , from the theory that these teeth generally erupt in late teen years and early 20s; may refer to the concept that complete cognitive development of the human brain does not occur until approximately the same age

  • Turkish— yas disi (twentieth-year tooth) refers to the age at which wisdom teeth appear

  • Korean— Sa-rang-nee (love teeth), referring to the young age and the pain of first love

  • Japanese— Oyashirazu (literally, unknown to parents), from the idea that they erupt in young adults after they have moved away

  • Indonesian— gigi bungsu , for the last teeth to appear, referring to bungsu (youngest child) because these teeth erupt so much later than others, implying that the third molars are “younger” than the rest

  • Thai— fan-khut (huddling tooth) due to the shortage of space for eruption

  • Spanish— muelas del jucio (literally, judgment molars), referring to the pain they cause as they develop

  • Dutch— verstandskies , a literal translation to English is wisdom tooth, but verstands can also mean standing far away, meaning the teeth furthest away from the mouth opening

These terms verify the special nature of the third molar, recognized in many diverse world cultures and languages for pain associated with eruption and presence, age at which these teeth erupt into the dental arch (young adulthood), and the generally insufficient space in the dental arch for the eruption of this tooth.

Similarities of the third molars to other teeth in the dental arch

  • Have both a crown and a root, with the anatomy and size of crown of similar size to first and second molars

  • Are multirooted teeth

  • Mandibular third molars generally have 2 roots and maxillary third molars generally 3 roots, similar to first and second molars

  • Composed of enamel, dentin, and cementum and are morphologically most similar to the first and second molars

  • Receive their vascular supply and enervation through the apical foramen of the roots to the dental pulp

  • Attached to the alveolar bone of either the maxilla or mandible via the periodontal ligament

  • Subject to the same disease processes that can affect other teeth, including periodontal disease and dental caries

Number and location

  • Usually 4 in number, 2 on the left and 2 on the right side of the head

  • On each side, 1 in the maxilla and 2 in the mandible

  • Are the most posterior teeth in the dental arch for the quadrant in which they are located

  • Generally follow the rule of the bilaterality of the human anatomy in that there is little if any difference between bilateral structures or organs, such as the left and right kidneys, eyes, maxillary sinus, or appendages

  • Third molars in the maxilla are more similar to the maxillary first and second molars than mandibular molars

  • Third molars in the mandible are more similar to the mandibular first and second molars than they are to maxillary third molars

Number and location

  • Usually 4 in number, 2 on the left and 2 on the right side of the head

  • On each side, 1 in the maxilla and 2 in the mandible

  • Are the most posterior teeth in the dental arch for the quadrant in which they are located

  • Generally follow the rule of the bilaterality of the human anatomy in that there is little if any difference between bilateral structures or organs, such as the left and right kidneys, eyes, maxillary sinus, or appendages

  • Third molars in the maxilla are more similar to the maxillary first and second molars than mandibular molars

  • Third molars in the mandible are more similar to the mandibular first and second molars than they are to maxillary third molars

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Jan 23, 2017 | Posted by in Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery | Comments Off on The Nature of Third Molars: Are Third Molars Different than Other Teeth?
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