why do we still have wisdom teeth

Not just a year ago my wisdom was tucked tightly away in my mouth, just below the surface of my gums, bothering no one. And then, last fall, it decided to emerge in the shape of three large, impacted teeth that had to come out. As I lay under the dental surgeonБs tools over the holidays, slowly coming out of my anesthesia, I wondered to myself: where did these teeth come from? Anthropologists believe wisdom teeth, or the third set of molars, were the evolutionary answer to our ancestorБs early diet of coarse, rough food Б like leaves, roots, nuts and meats Б which required more chewing power and resulted in excessive wear of the teeth. The modern diet with its softer foods, along with marvels of modern technologies such as forks, spoons and knives, has made the need for wisdom teeth nonexistent. As a result, evolutionary biologists now classify wisdom teeth as vestigial organs, or body parts that have become functionless due to evolution. Why do wisdom teeth wait to erupt long after the tooth fairy has stopped leaving change under your pillow? Tooth development, from baby primary teeth to permanent teeth, takes place in an organized fashion, over a course of years, with the first molar erupting around the age of six and the second molar erupting around the age of 12. Wisdom teeth, which begin forming around your tenth birthday, are the last set of molars on the tooth-development timeline, so they usually donБt erupt until you are between the ages of 17 and 25. Because this is the age that people are said to become wiser, the set of third molars has been nicknamed Бwisdom teeth.


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Some people never get wisdom teeth, but for those who do, the number may be anywhere from one to four Б and, on very rare occasions, more than four, according to a study published in the Journal of the Canadian Dental Association. Scientific literature has yet to be able to explain why the number of teeth per individual varies, but for those who do get these extraneous, or supernumerary, teeth, it can lead to all sorts of problems. Because human jaws have become smaller throughout evolutionary history, when wisdom teeth form they often become impacted, or blocked, by the other teeth around them. Also, if the tooth partially erupts, food can get trapped in the gum tissue surrounding it, which can lead to bacteria growth and, possibly, a serious infection. Wisdom teeth that do not erupt but remain tucked away can also lead to oral problems, such as crowding or displacement of permanent teeth. On very rare occasions, a cyst (fluid filled sac) can form in the soft tissue surrounding the impacted wisdom tooth. These cysts can lead to bone destruction, jaw expansion, or damage to the surrounding teeth. Even more uncommonly, tumors can develop in the cysts, which can lead to the jaw spontaneously breaking if the tumor or cyst grows too much. There are patients that develop wisdom teeth that function just as well as every other tooth in the mouth, and as a result they do not need to go under the knife. But no one can predict when third molar complications will occur, and the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons estimates that about 85 percent of wisdom teeth will eventually need to be removed.


If you do have wisdom teeth that you are thinking of having taken out, the association strongly recommends that patients remove wisdom teeth when they are young adults, in order to Бprevent future problems and to ensure optimal healing. Б People who have oral surgery after the age of 35 have higher risks for complications, harder surgeries, and longer healing times than those who get them removed in their late teens or early 20Бs. The best time to get those suckers out is when the roots are about two-thirds formed, which is generally between the ages of 15 to 18. Though I wasБwell, a lady never tells her age, but suffice it to say that for me, a weeks long lack of locution and a diet of soup and applesauce was worth no longer having pain in my jaw and food in my teeth. You probably donвt spend much time thinking about your third molars, commonly known as wisdom teeth, unless something goes wrong with them. Many people have had personal experience or know someone who has had wisdom tooth problems resulting in them being removed. So, you might wonder why nature has afflicted us with these apparently useless teeth? The answer lies in the story of human evolution. The human third molars begin to erupt, or emerge through the jaw tissue and into the mouth, between the ages of 17 and 25 years. This age span is when human beings are said to grow вwiserв, hence the nickname. Because wisdom teeth develop and erupt so late, there are many variables that can interfere with them erupting healthily into their correct position.


Thus, they are often advised to be removed, often soon after they erupt. Wisdom teeth have been around for at least 100 million years, since before our human ancestors walked upright. The humanoid skull from that era had much larger jaws than we have today, so all 32 teeth, including the third molars, fit comfortably. Early humans needed all of their molars to grind and chew the raw plant material prevalent in their diets. Wisdom teeth, with their delayed eruption timing, provided a sort of back-up function. The wisdom teeth came in as the first and second molars were becoming worn down from use. As the hominid ancestors evolved into humans, both physical and cultural changes affected the importance and function of the third molars. Jaw size grew smaller in response to increasingly upright posture. Development of fire and agriculture also shifted human diets away from coarse, raw foods that needed strong chewing surfaces. This trend continues today, with processed foods and microwave cooking. As result, the third molars, like the appendix, can now be considered an evolutionary afterthought. Thereвs a great deal of variability in wisdom teeth. Some lucky peopleвabout 35% of the populationвnever have to face wisdom tooth extraction because they never develop these teeth at all. Others get wisdom teeth but still have plenty of room of in their jaws to accommodate themвsometimes because they never develop the full complement of four. And some grow more than four wisdom teeth, which definitely leads to a crowded jaw. Most people who get wisdom teeth lack sufficient room in their jaws for the teeth to function.


This can lead to problems when the wisdom teeth crowd or displace the other teeth. They are notoriously difficult to access and clean which means they can decay very easily. Some wisdom teeth donвt erupt fully and become impacted; causing a gum cavity that collects food particles and bacteria, leading to infections and abscesses. Cysts can also develop around impacted wisdom teeth, leading to a deformed jawbone and other serious problems. Even if your wisdom teeth fit your mouth, youвre not necessarily home free. Problems that develop later in wisdom teeth usually carry greater complications due to patient age and the development of the teeth themselves. Overall, having an area that is constantly harbouring low-grade inflammation and infection in the body is not good long term for your immune system and overall systemic health. It has been shown that in individuals that form all four wisdom teeth with inadequate space to accommodate them, the best option is to have them removed while the person is young because the roots are small (making it less complex surgery) and the person heals quickly. In saying this, just because someone has wisdom teeth does not mean that they necessarily have to come out! Thatвs why at Bite Dental we take the time to assess all our patients with a full mouth x-ray to determine the presence and position of the wisdom teeth and proceed with the best treatment plan for that individual. We are all unique, with different blends of вwisdomв to deal withв and dentally speakingвyou are lucky if you have none!

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