Our wisdom teeth refer to our third set of molars, which usually develop around 17-25 years of age–or when most of us have gained some ‘wisdom’. If you’re in the 85 percent of people who require wisdom teeth removal (via the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons), then you are no stranger to wisdom teeth pain. But what’s the deal with wisdom teeth anyway? Why do we have them? Why do they need to be removed? And will getting rid of them diminish some of our hard earned wisdom? Here’s their story:
Our wisdom teeth have a long and illustrious history. To begin, we’ll have to take a look at our prehistoric ancestors, who roamed around 100 million years ago. These early versions of man were lucky in the sense that they did not feel wisdom teeth pain or require wisdom teeth removal. With a larger jaw, these guys and gals were able to fit all 32 teeth quite comfortably, with no extractions, sick days or chicken soup necessary.
During this time, there were several factors that made large jaws and many teeth imperative for survival. For starters, our early ancestors used all four limbs for mobility and balance. This meant their mouths played a more prominent role in hunting and gathering. In addition, without fire and utensils, early man dined on highly primitive meals, often consisting of raw meat, leaves, roots and nuts. Because they had no dentists to fix broken or infected teeth, third molars might have also acted as replacements.
However, as time went on, hominids began to evolve. The first ‘step’ was learning to walk on two legs–this left arms free to help with hunting and gathering. In addition, mutations to their genes lead to shorter jaws and may have even been the factor that allowed their brains to grow. While this was great news for intellectual evolution, it was bad news for third molars, as it would become the precursor to wisdom teeth pain and eventually wisdom teeth removal.
As the years passed, larger brains helped our ancestors begin to figure out new things, like creating fire and making tools. This made dining a much simpler affair and changed their rough and primitive diet to a softer (and probably yummier) one. This would ultimately lead to the demise of our use for third molars and to the beginning of wisdom teeth removal.
So, while wisdom teeth pain is undoubtedly a hindrance, the evolutionary processes that created this nuisance are also likely what helped hominids evolve into the walking, talking, homo sapiens we are today.