Most wisdom teeth, or third molars, must be removed by an oral surgeon, but why do we have them in the first place?
In the far corners of our mouths lies an ongoing mystery. The buried teeth don’t make their dramatic appearance at least until young adulthood.
The wisdom teeth, which are also known as M3s or third molars, serve no clear purpose in our everyday lives, and yet, they often cause us trouble when they develop. If these teeth commonly cause the majority of humans’ problems, we have to ask, why do we have them?
About 95 percent of the entire population has wisdom teeth and of that 95 percent, an estimated 90 percent develops at least one impacted wisdom tooth, according to the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons. With that in mind, people typically contact an oral surgeon, who is best qualified to remove them, to re-establish basic function to the teeth and jaws—because if you don’t, impacted teeth will result in pain and infection.
While it is great that there is a solution to the problem, why the problem exists in the first place remains a mystery. For a better understanding, science turns to anthropologists and geneticists. Anthropologists study ancient human skeletons and piece together human evolution, and geneticists are able to find biological clues to evolution at the molecular level.
For anthropologists, the dominant theory is that early humans needed the third molars for everyday life. These teeth helped them to chew the tough foods they lived on, such as roots and raw meat. The human jaw was more prominent back then, and the additional teeth fit in the jaw. Once humans learned how to cook their food, it became softer and easier to eat and digest. As the brain size grew, the jaw size shrank, and the wisdom teeth were becoming an oral health problem—or so goes the theory.
For geneticists, they have identified a specific gene, which appears to be connected to brain size and to characteristics of the jaw; this gene is called the MYH16. Although its exact role in human evolution has not yet been determined, geneticists developed their theory around the MYH16 gene.
The various theories about wisdom teeth are thought-provoking. And when we flash forward to modern time, someone who is suffering from an impacted third molar will be much more interested in getting it extracted quickly and safely. If you have an impacted tooth or have any questions about any oral surgery procedure, please call Monroe Oral Maxillofacial & Implant Surgery to make an appointment today!