Why Do We Have Wisdom Teeth?

Most patients have to get their wisdom teeth removed – but the real question is, why do we have them?

You may not realize it but buried in the far corners of our mouths lies an ongoing mystery. The wisdom teeth serve no obvious purpose in life, and often just cause us problems – And yet the great majority of people have them.

That poses the question: Why do we have wisdom teeth in the first place?

Did you know that about 95 percent of the population has wisdom teeth? And on top of that, an estimated 90 percent develops at least one impacted wisdom tooth (this information is from the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons). If you are diagnosed with an impacted tooth, it needs to come out, or else you will experience severe pain and infection. Typically people are directed to visit an oral surgeon, who is an expert at removing the third molars, and restore health and function to your teeth and jaws. Although when problems arise, it’s left up to oral surgeons to correct the problem, sometimes understanding why the problem exists is not quite clear.

For that, science turns to anthropologists who study ancient skeletons and piece together human evolution; and geneticists, who identify clues to evolution at the molecular level.

If you ask an anthropologist, the dominant theory is that early humans developed those extra molars to help chew any and all uncooked food that our scavenging ancestors lived on (like roots and raw meat). Jaws were more pronounced back then, so the extra teeth fit in and enhanced their ability to consume food. Once humans learned to cook their food, which was not so long ago geologically, the food became softer and thus easier to digest. Human brain size grew and developed, jaw size shrank, and the extra molars became extra, unnecessary teeth. Or so goes the theory.

If you ask a geneticist, they will tell you that they have identified a specific gene, MYH16, which appears to be connected to brain size and jaw characteristics – although its exact role in human evolution has not yet been determined for certain.

We can all agree that the theories surrounding wisdom teeth may be interesting but most people who suffer from an impacted third molar will be much more interested in getting it extracted – and we can help! If you have an impacted tooth or have any questions about any oral surgery procedure, please call North Tarrant Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery to make an appointment today!

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