Wisdom teeth: Where did they come from, and why do we have them?
Anthropologists believe wisdom teeth were the evolutionary answer to our ancestor’s early diet of rough food – like leaves, roots, nuts and meats. The wisdom teeth added more chewing power. Our diet today, however, its softer foods — along with forks, spoons and knives — has made the need for wisdom teeth nonexistent. In fact, biologists now classify wisdom teeth as vestigial organs. In other words, they are function-less due to evolution.
(RELATED: Ancient Teeth Were Pretty Darn Big)
Your Third Set of Molars
Wisdom teeth, which begin forming around your tenth birthday, are the third and last set of molars on the tooth-development timeline, so they usually don’t 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 “wisdom teeth.”
Some people never get wisdom teeth, but for those who do, the number may be anywhere from one to four. Scientific literature has yet to be able to explain why the number of teeth per individual varies, but for those who do get these extra teeth, they can lead to all sorts of problems.
Their Location Makes Wisdom Teeth Prone to Problems
Because human jaws have become smaller throughout evolution, 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 a serious infection. Wisdom teeth that remain tucked away can also lead to oral problems, such as crowding or displacement of permanent teeth.
There are patients who never develop wisdom teeth complications. Unfortunately, no one can predict if and when these problems will occur. 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 “prevent future problems and to ensure optimal healing.”
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