Why Do We Have Wisdom Teeth?

Wisdom teeth giving a man pain. Seen holding his jaw.
Caption: If you are experiencing complications with your wisdom teeth, Dental Partners of Boston can help!

Why Do We Have Wisdom Teeth?

Wisdom teeth are frustrating for many patients – they are a regular source of pain and infection. But if they are so problematic, why do we have them? It seems strange that evolution would give us teeth that are problematic and not necessary.

Researchers believe that the reason modern humans have wisdom teeth is that our ancestors needed them for their diet. Ancient humans ate a lot of tough roots and leaves. This required large, strong jaws to process all that roughage and chew it so that it could be swallowed. “Wisdom teeth,” are a set of extra molars at the back of the mouth. They helped considerably with the process of eating by providing a large surface area on which to munch.

Our big brains are one of the causes of our problems with this set of teeth today. Big brains gave us the cognitive capacity to create fire and cook our food, but they also led to evolutionary pressures which changed the size of our jaws, leading to current wisdom teeth problems. Cooking helped to break down the fibrous structures that hold plant matter and meat together, making it easier to chew and increasing the total number of calories available. With that our big jaws were no longer necessary.

The problem, however, is that while our jaws changed, we still have the teeth we no longer need. For some patients, this can create a problem. This is because 53 percent of adults with wisdom teeth do not have enough real estate in their mouths to accommodate the extra molars.

The Problems Caused By Wisdom Teeth

While wisdom teeth were necessary in our distant evolutionary past, that’s no longer the case today. Many patients do not have any wisdom teeth at all. We do not need an extra set of molars to chew our food since most patients eat a mainly cooked and processed diet.

Wisdom teeth, however, can cause a variety of problems for some patients. Often, there isn’t enough space for the tooth to emerge at the back of the mouth. The teeth can rotate and become “impacted” in the space next to the regular molars. Impacted wisdom teeth don’t always lead to infection, but it is a common outcome. The gums surrounding the teeth can become swollen and inflamed. Pus can exude from the site and lead to a foul taste in your mouth and cause bad breath. Worse still, if you leave the problem to fester, you can cause damage to the surrounding bone, which is why wisdom tooth extraction is important.

Schedule An Appointment Today

If you still have your wisdom teeth, and they have become a nuisance then now is the time to schedule an appointment with Dental Partners of Boston. We look forward to talking with you about your particular situation to help alleviate your frustration with wisdom teeth.

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