Wisdom teeth. The phrase alone can strike terror into the hearts of some, because wisdom teeth aren't demure debutantes, making their shy introductions to the world; wisdom teeth shove their way to the surface sometimes at odd angles pushing aside anything that gets in their way.
For most people, wisdom teeth mean jaw stiffness, pain, impaction, and even infection, and the only way to deal with them is surgical removal. Unfortunately, the complications from wisdom teeth don't occur in any set pattern. You could be fine for weeks, and then have your jaw lock up at the worst possible time, like in the middle of your vacation. While everyone else is enjoying the sights at Disneyland, you're frantically searching for whatever kind of wisdom teeth removal Orlando offers.
All the drama surrounding wisdom teeth begs the question: Why do we even have them?
When Teeth Were Tools
Nowadays we use our teeth to chew, but that's about it. When we're not eating, our teeth are essentially pretty ornaments that we use to dazzle and charm. That was not the case for our early ancestors. Back in the day, when we still walked on our hands, we used our teeth hold things, sharpen tools, to open things and, of course, for chewing.
Things we chewed were tough and hard, because a lot of it was also uncooked, so we needed really strong teeth, and a lot of them, to get the job done. Having a lot of strong teeth meant we also had bigger jaws to accommodate them. So, wisdom teeth are essentially a throwback to a time when we had plenty of mouth real estate to accommodate all of our teeth.
The Evolution of Teeth
As early humans evolved, they began to walk upright, thereby freeing their hands. The skull shape also changed, making room for a larger brain. They also learned how to use fire for heat and cooking. All of these advances caused changes to our dental structure.
· Because we no longer needed to use our teeth as tools, and because our food was easier to chew, our teeth could be smaller;
· Because we needed more room for our brains, we borrowed some real estate from our jawlines.
Thanks to millennia of evolution, modern humans have smaller jaws and smaller teeth than their ancestors, which means most of us only have room for 28 teeth unfortunately, the wisdom teeth didn't get the memo.
Why Are They Still Here?
Ok, so it makes perfect sense that our mouths and teeth would change as we evolve; but if we can evolve smaller mouths, why do we still make wisdom teeth?
Well, part of that has to do with the way
Well, part of that has to do with the way our teeth form. We develop a lot of our teeth in the womb, except for our wisdom teeth those form after birth. Scientists aren't clear on which genetic mechanism causes the wisdom teeth to form, but they believe it is separate from the mechanism that controls jaw size. As a result, the mechanism for tooth development never really changed in most people, so it keeps cranking those last four molars regardless of the amount of space available.
And while it seems like the mechanism should be able to adjust, and just make four fewer teeth, but it doesn't work that way.
What This Means for the Future
While wisdom teeth are still fairly common, approximately 35 percent of people never develop them. Scientists aren't sure if this is a sign that we are finally evolving into not having them, or if it is just a normal expression of a genetic mutation, like blue eyes or red hair.
However, some scientists are looking into ways to stop the wisdom teeth before they begin, but that is still a ways off.