Why do we have wisdom teeth? Skip to main content

Why do we have wisdom teeth?

The arrival (or lack thereof) of one’s wisdom teeth is a life milestone for most people between the ages of 17 and 25.

It’s a rite of passage that begs the question, “Why do we have wisdom teeth to begin with?”

A shift in dietary needs

The most widely accepted theory for why we have wisdom teeth relies on anthropology. Early humans likely ate rougher, courser foods that required more grinding. A third row of molars would have provided more power for pulverizing hard, uncooked foods such as nuts, roots and meat.

Over time, as food became easier to consume, the last of the three molars became a body part that often no longer had a function.

Shrinking of the jaw makes for a crowded mouth

Research shows that the human jaw has become smaller over time. For many people, there simply isn’t enough room in their mouth to squeeze in another molar.

This lack of space is the number one reason why we began removing wisdom teeth before problems such as shifting teeth, infection or crooked eruption could take place.

How many wisdom teeth do we have?

Some people never develop wisdom teeth and others develop all four.

It’s common to only grow wisdom teeth on either the upper or lower arch and not unheard of to develop just a single wisdom tooth in your whole mouth.

Teeth develop in a very organized fashion. The first molars begin to erupt around age six, when your adult teeth are replacing your baby teeth; and your second molars erupt around your twelfth birthday.

Given that wisdom teeth don’t begin to develop until the age of ten, it’s hard to predict at an earlier age how many wisdom teeth you will have.

Do I have to have them pulled?

The short answer is typically yes. Most people who develop wisdom teeth will eventually suffer negative effects if they do not have them removed.

Patients with impacted or partially erupted wisdom teeth would be very unwise to take the risk of refusing the treatment. Partially erupted teeth are highly prone to bacterial infection.

Wisdom teeth can be difficult to care for even if the patient has no issues with crowding or pain. Third molars are harder to reach for proper brushing and flossing, which can lead to cavities, gum disease and plaque.

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