Why do we have wisdom teeth, anyway?
Wisdom teeth were once an extremely valuable asset to our ancestors. When a typical diet consisted of chewy plants and uncooked meat, third molars (wisdom teeth), which fit easily into our ancestors’ larger jaws, were absolutely necessary. Wisdom teeth were the evolutionary answer to the need for chewing power to combat excessive wear.
Today, our diets are not as rough as those of our ancestors. With modern marvels like forks, spoons, and knives, as well as softer food, the need for wisdom teeth is virtually nonexistent. And yet, on average, about 65% of the human population is born with wisdom teeth which usually erupt between the ages 17 and 25.
Although wisdom teeth were incredibly advantageous for our ancestors, they pose a bit of a problem for the modern mouth. Humans have evolved to have smaller jaws, and so wisdom teeth are often either too big for the jaw or the jaws themselves are just too small. Either way, third molars crowd the mouth. Because of this lack of space, molars often grow sideways, only partially emerging from the gums, or actually get trapped inside the gums and jawbone.
These impacted wisdom teeth can be chronically contaminated with bacteria associated with infection, tooth decay, inflammation, and gum disease. And because they’re so far back in the mouth or trapped underneath gums, it’s difficult and sometimes impossible to keep them clean. Even when wisdom teeth come in fully, they are so far back in the mouth that it’s just too easy for food to get trapped, leading to plaque, cavities, and gum disease.
Although wisdom teeth were very important to our ancestors, nowadays, they pose a serious problem to oral health. Call David H. Gilbert DDS, MS, MBA, FACS to find out if your wisdom teeth are ready to come out!