Wisdom Teeth – Why Do I Have Them and What Do They Do?

wisdom tooth painWe’ve all heard of wisdom teeth and while we may have heard of them, not all of us have them? Why is this? Here’s the lowdown on wisdom teeth and why they have such a bad reputation.

Wisdom teeth are also called third molars. They are the last set of teeth to come in and generally appear between the ages of 17-25. For some, wisdom teeth emerge and do not cause a problem, for others, they never come in and for the remainder, they become impacted and need to be surgically removed.

Origins of Wisdom Teeth

The term “wisdom” teeth is thought to have derived from the fact that these teeth emerge much later than the rest, at a time when people were thought to be “wiser”.

For our ancestors, a third set of molars was necessary due to the type of diets they had which consisted of nuts, meats and roots. These items were uncooked and extremely tough on their teeth. Tooth erosion occurred fairly quickly and a third set of molars helped with the amount of chewing that was required at the time.

As we progressed to a more refined diet of cooked and softer foods, our wisdom teeth fell out of use. Our bodies adapted and jaws got smaller and now, our wisdom teeth stay dormant or in many cases, have no room to emerge. This is where problems ensue.

Wisdom Teeth – Modern Times

As we mentioned, wisdom teeth have pretty much become obsolete. This occurs more often in cultures that are agricultural based. Cultures that still have a strong hunter-gatherer way of life tend to retain their wisdom teeth, think Australian Aborigines.

As man has evolved, our jaws have become smaller and the wisdom teeth have difficulty emerging. This can result in “impactions’, crowding of teeth, or displacement of permanent teeth. Sometimes cysts can develop that lead to bone destruction and jaw expansion. Scientists have come to refer to wisdom teeth as vestigial organs, meaning they have become useless as a result of evolution.

There is no definitive reason for why some people never have their wisdom teeth emerge and why others do. For those whose wisdom teeth do emerge, the number of teeth can vary from one to four and in rare cases, more than four. Why some people have different numbers of teeth emerge is still a mystery.

When to See a Dentist?

Anyone who has “wisdom” should consider having their wisdom teeth removed before they present a problem. It is highly recommended that if the teeth are to be removed, that the procedure is done when the person is younger as opposed to later in life. If the procedure is performed later, the surgery often comes with a longer recovery time and increased risk of complications.

Consult with your dentist about what the best approach is for your situation. In this case, prevention is often the best medicine.

Source: sandiegodentist.org

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