Most of us know our wisdom teeth as these four nuisances that happen to us in early adulthood. These third molars come in between the ages of 17 and 25 and in over 80% of people need to have their wisdom teeth removed. Believe it or not, these four molars actually served a purpose for us in the past. They were meant to be more than just problematic for your mouth—in fact, they were pretty helpful at one point. Here’s why we have wisdom teeth!
They Were Essential to Our Ancestors
Wisdom teeth likely became part of the human jaw on account of our distant ancestors. These people ate a diet that consisted of lots of raw, crunchy foods such as roots, plants, and nuts. Even meat could be difficult to consume for people who lacked the proper utensils! These third molars were present in people who had larger jaws than we did. Over thousands of years, our jaws and our faces have actually gotten smaller. We no longer have the need for huge jaws with lots of teeth. Although our ancestors likely found wisdom teeth to be a great help when chewing their food and preventing their teeth from wearing down too much, today, wisdom teeth are really no longer needed.
Evolution Has Rendered Them Unnecessary
On account of our smaller jaws, there’s no longer room for an additional four large molars in our jaws. Although wisdom teeth come in at a time when the jaw is fully developed, there still just isn’t much use for them today. Our foods have also gotten easier to eat. No longer do we need to crunch on raw roots and plants when we have the ability to cook meals and cut up our meat for easy consumption. Today, wisdom teeth do more harm than good to the majority of people. Wisdom teeth often become impacted in modern humans. Impacted wisdom teeth do not have enough room to erupt through the jaw and end up crowding the other teeth or causing pain. In fact, impacted wisdom teeth have been happening to humans for centuries. The oldest case dates back to the skeleton of a woman found in France who lived 15,000 years ago! Her remains showed severely impacted third molars.
Wisdom Teeth Today
35% of people never even develop wisdom teeth. The possible cause of this is because evolution may be phasing them out again, as modern humans no longer need wisdom teeth. Some people may develop less than four wisdom teeth. It’s rare to have more than four, however. Wisdom teeth cause of host of problems to people today. They can cause infection if they don’t erupt through the gumline all the way. They are difficult to brush, can cause jaw pain, crowded teeth, and ruin orthodontic work.
It’s no wonder that many people find removing their wisdom teeth is a simple solution to experiencing pain, discomfort, or crooked teeth from impaction. Although wisdom teeth were certainly helpful at one point, wisdom teeth are commonly removed today. Our ancestors used their third molars to help them consume foods that were essential to their health. Now, we have smaller jaws and less room for wisdom teeth than our descendants did!