Why do we have wisdom teeth?
Third molars, or wisdom teeth, were once very useful to our ancestors. Because prehistoric man’s diet of hard-to-chew plants and uncooked meat required powerful chewing muscles, our ancestors’ jaws were large enough to fit 32 teeth, not just 28. Now that humans have evolved a better means of chewing and digesting our food, we no longer have large jaws, so we simply have no need or no room for wisdom teeth. Many scientists believe humans are currently evolving third molar hypodontia, or the lack of wisdom teeth, due to their inability to develop in the first place.
How many people have wisdom teeth?
About 20-25% of the human population is born with 1 to 3 wisdom teeth, and almost 35% are born without any wisdom teeth at all.
Why do some people have wisdom teeth and some don’t?
There are a few reasons why scientists believe that not everyone develops wisdom teeth:
- Genetics: Some evidence suggests that a genetic mutation occurred hundreds of thousands of years ago, causing some people to be born without wisdom teeth.
- Environment: Percentages of people who develop wisdom teeth varies from culture to culture. Certain ethnic groups are known for low percentages of wisdom teeth development, while others are known for high percentages. Environmental factors during dental development are also a possible explanation.
Will wisdom teeth become obsolete?
With the number of people lacking wisdom teeth steadily growing, it’s possible that we could someday completely evolve to not develop wisdom teeth at all. Scientists have experimented with chemically preventing the development of wisdom teeth. Researchers have found that children ages 2-6 that are given local anesthesia for dental work have a higher chance of not developing wisdom teeth later on. Maybe in the future, simple injections at a young age will keep all of us from having to go through wisdom tooth extraction!