The Wisdom Tooth Question


Most wisdom teeth (aka M3s) must be removed – but why do we have them at all?

You may not really think about it, but in the far corners of our mouths lies an ongoing mystery.

Your third molars, which are more commonly known as wisdom teeth, serve no obvious purpose. If anything, they often just cause us trouble.

Wisdom teeth are at risk to become impacted or crowd your healthy teeth. But almost every person has them. Have you ever thought, why?

The American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons has determined that about 95 percent of the population has wisdom teeth – and an estimated 90 percent develops at least one impacted wisdom tooth. Impacted teeth will always be a problem and need to come out or else pain and oral infection occur. When this problem does occur, it is up to oral surgeons to fix the problem.

Understanding why wisdom teeth are a problem is not really common knowledge. For that, science turns to anthropologists (who study ancient human skeletons and piece together human evolution) and geneticists (who can find biological clues to evolution at a molecular level).

The dominant theory among anthropologists is that early humans needed those extra molars. The extra molars helped people to chew their food, and that food was much tougher to eat. Jaws were also more pronounced back then, and all of the teeth fit just fine back there and got the job done. Not so long ago in geologic time, humans learned how to cook the food before they ate it, making much easier to grind up. Then as brain size grew, jaw size shrank, and wisdom teeth were no longer necessary. Or so goes the theory.

A specific gene, MYH16, was identified by geneticists. It appears to be connected to brain size and characteristics of the jaw, but its exact role in human evolution has not yet been determined.

At a practical level, someone suffering from an impacted third molar is much more interested in getting it taken care of than learning about why it is a problem – and that’s where we come in. If you have an impacted tooth or have any questions about any oral surgery procedure, please call OC Oral Surgery to make an appointment today!

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