The other day a patient asked me, “Why do we have wisdom teeth anyway?” What a great question! To anyone who has had a crooked or impacted wisdom tooth, including that clever young man, wisdom teeth certainly don’t seem very wise. The name actually comes from the fact that our wisdom teeth are the last teeth to erupt; when we are no longer children and considered to be wiser.
Anthropologists believe wisdom teeth evolved to deal with our early ancestor’s diet of coarse, rough foods – such as leaves, roots, nuts and meats – that required more chewing power. Our ancestor’s jaws were larger and easily held 32 teeth. As time went on we became smarter. We developed tools such as knives and spoons and expanded our diet to include many soft foods. Chewing power was not as important as brain power so the size of our jaws decreased to allow for larger brains. Good trade! Wisdom teeth are no longer needed, but we still have them. They are considered to be vestigial, and a pain in the jaw to many people!
Be Smart, it’s time to Part with problem teeth!
Because human jaws are now smaller, wisdom teeth often become impacted, or blocked, by the other teeth around them. Also, if the tooth partially erupts, food can get trapped in the gum tissue surrounding it, which can lead to bacteria growth and, possibly, a serious infection. Ouch! Wisdom teeth can really cause a lot of pain.
Even teeth that don’t end up erupting can still cause problems.
There are patients that develop wisdom teeth that function well, and do not need to be removed.
But no one can predict when third molar complications will occur, and the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons estimates that about 85 percent of wisdom teeth will eventually need to be removed.
They recommend having the surgery before the age of 25, in order to “prevent future problems and to ensure optimal healing.”
That young man I was telling you about was 19 years old, and not happy about having his wisdom teeth removed, as you would expect. But, even he had to admit it was all worthwhile in the end. He was back to his normal self within a week after surgery, and very happy to no longer have jaw pain and food in his teeth.
Stay tuned for our follow up on Wisdom Teeth. I’ll answer some other great questions from patients. Remember, if you are suffering from jaw pain, please call us today or simply respond and schedule a consultation.