Why Do We Have Wisdom Teeth?


The growth of wisdom teeth typically signifies the onset of adulthood, and marks the last stage of dental development. The teeth, which are technically the third molars, typically grow between the ages of 17 and 25. This period is known as the “age of wisdom,” which explains the name ‘wisdom teeth.’

According to Louis Rafetro, an oral surgeon based in Delaware, most people’s wisdom teeth are very unlikely to function normally, and are thus virtually useless. Which now leads us to the question, why then do we have wisdom teeth?

Importance of Wisdom Teeth

One common theory suggests that nature endowed our ancestors with third molars (wisdom teeth) to help them better chew their food. At the time, the human diet consisted of raw, hard foods such as bushmeat, roots, and nuts.

Over time, the reliance on wisdom has significantly reduced due to the discovery of fire to cook meals, and soft foods. Matter of fact, some people, mostly those born in agricultural areas, never develop third molars.

Issues With Wisdom Teeth

The main problem with wisdom teeth, for most people, is anatomy. Dr. Thomas Dodson particularly attributes this to “jaws that are too small,” or teeth that are too big to fit the available jaw space.

See, nature intended for wisdom teeth to grow during early adulthood or from the late teens as that’s when the jaw would be developed enough to allow an extra set of molars. Sadly, for some people, their third molars come in too early and may thus grow sideways, get lost in the jawbone or gums or not fully emerge.

According to dentists, trapped or partially emerged wisdom teeth are highly vulnerable to bacteria, which causes inflammation, gum disease, and infection. Their location at the far back of the mouth makes third molars difficult to clean, floss or remove stuck food, which subsequently causes the said dental problems.

Managing Your Wisdom Teeth

If your wisdom teeth are giving you problems, it is advisable to have a talk with your dentist. They will look for signs of decay and infection and recommend removal if the problem is too pronounced.

Additionally, in case of partial or full impaction (teeth trapped in the gums), surgery is, in most cases, the best option. The alternative would be regular dental checkups and periodontal cleanings. However, this option may be  expensive in the long term.

Wisdom Teeth and Surgery

It is essential to get a dental checkup as soon as you develop wisdom teeth. This way, your dentist will be able to determine whether your teeth are in a good state, or will give you problems in the future. In case of the latter, a timely surgery would be the best option, as it prevents pain and possible complications in the future.

Potential risks associated with wisdom teeth surgery include infection, nerve damage, swelling, and resistance to anesthesia.

Bottom line:

All said and done, the choice to either go through surgery or alternative treatments depend on the state of your teeth, and the dentist’s opinion. You should therefore go for regular dental checkups to help detect and correct dental issues at the earliest stages.

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