Why do we have wisdom teeth?

At some point in your teens or early twenties, you will be blessed with wisdom teeth. They are located at the back of the gums, and the process of growing them out is painful. So much so, that most people have them removed almost immediately as they emerge. Even more annoying are how uncomfortable wisdom teeth feel in the back of the mouth. They hinder jaw movement and can impair speech. Furthermore, they take up space and don’t really seem to have a purpose.

So, why do we grow them?

Wisdom teeth are vestigial third molars; meaning that at one point in time, the human race needed them, but as we evolved, the wisdom teeth, much like the appendix, lost their usefulness. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has recommended against the prophylactic extraction of disease-free impacted wisdom teeth.

The wisdom teeth were used by our ancestors to grind plant tissue. It is generally believed that the skulls of human ancestors had larger jaws with more teeth, which possibly helped to chew foliage to compensate for a lack of the ability to efficiently digest the cellulose that makes up a plant cell wall, Wikipedia explains.

The main concern regarding impacted, or stuck together wisdom teeth, is that they cause decay or inflammation and infection in the surrounding gum tissues, termed pericoronitis. These are the most common reasons for extraction. 

Why we no longer need them

According to anthropologists, the human jawline has become less broad over the years due to how food is prepared and consumed. We cut, dice, chop and cook most of our meals. Eating is much easier than it used to be.

Your third molars are the last set of teeth to appear, just as you reach adulthood.

Very Well Health explains that due to this later age, they became known as “wisdom” teeth. It’s likely that the nickname has something to do with the adage that “with age comes wisdom”.

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