As modern science as developed, many of the rituals that older generations considered a rite of passage (chicken pox parties are a good example of this) have been made obsolete by advancements in modern medicine. One that’s endured, however, is wisdom tooth surgery. Here are some interesting facts about humans’ third molar that might entertain you on the way to the oral surgeon.
They Haven’t Served a Purpose for Thousands of Years
Wisdom teeth are a relic of a time when prehistoric humans subsisted largely on raw meat, roots, and leaves. Because of this, the human jaw needed extra powerful teeth in order to break down foods. Now, however, with the change in diet and inventions in modern cooking, wisdom teeth have been made obsolete. Not only that, but they’re actually a problematic part of our evolution. Sometime between 800,000 and 200,000 years ago, the human brain began to change in size, growing to three times its original size at a relatively rapid rate. The brain case changed in order to accommodate, which shortened the dental arcade (where teeth grow). However, because the DNA that’s involved in the brain’s evolution is separate from the ones that determine the makeup of our teeth, the two evolved at separate rates.
The Number of Wisdom Teeth Varies from Person to Person
It’s possible that you may have anywhere from 0-4 wisdom teeth, though there have been cases where people have more, which are called supernumerary teeth. Some factors that determine how many wisdom teeth a person has are jaw size and lineage, which can also determine the number of roots each wisdom tooth has.
The First Impacted Tooth Was Recorded 15,000 Years Ago
Impacted teeth occur when a wisdom tooth doesn’t have enough room to grow, which causes its failure to erupt. The oldest known case of this was found in the skeleton of a 25-35 year old woman. This find cast some doubt on how modern diet has affected impacted teeth.
There’s Some Debate About Whether Impacted Teeth Should Be Removed
Many an oral doctor and surgeon believe that impacted teeth should be removed as a preventative measure. Even if there is no immediate pain or issues with impacting, some surgeons estimate that most people will have problems throughout the course of their lives, recommending wisdom tooth surgery as a result. In fact, more than 3.5 million wisdom tooth extraction procedures are performed each year, amounting to a staggering 10 million individual wisdom teeth extracted. The reason for this preventative removal is the belief that wisdom teeth serve no discernible benefit, and can only cause potential problems down the line, such as crowding, which could prevent people from brushing and flossing regularly.
However, not all oral surgeons agree. Some schools of oral surgery believe that wisdom teeth procedures should only be performed if there is an abscess, infection, or other immediate medical issue. When deciding whether extraction should be perform, some surgeons believe that it must be weighed against the possibility for complications, such as dry socket, infection, or nerve damage, and should be performed on a case by case basis.
Whether you’re in the market for wisdom tooth surgery or just looking to reminisce about that rite of passage, it’s fascinating to know more about this part of the body that once served a purpose, but hasn’t for so long. Like the appendix, the tailbone, and the muscles of the ear, wisdom teeth exist as a reminder of our more primitive selves, and in doing so, give us a link to our species’ past.