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Wisdom Teeth: What’s the Point?

Most of us get all the way to adulthood without our wisdom teeth, also known as third molars. They are the last teeth to erupt, generally making an appearance between 17-25 and usually causing plenty of problems along the way.

Haven't we chewed just fine without them, thank you very much, up until then? So why  are they even part of our world?

Blame It on the Paleolithic Generation

Let's turn the clock back a few thousand years. We evolved with wisdom teeth because the cave folk had many more teeth, housed in much bigger jaws, to do the serious chewing their lifestyles required. Lots and lots of hunks of meat and plenty of foliage. (Get it? That's why they call it the Paleo diet.)

Illustration of a Caveman Family Eating Chunks of Meat Together in Front of a Bonfire

As our eating habits morphed and shifted so did our jaws: we no longer needed as many teeth, so lots of them were conveniently phased out over time.

For some inexplicable reason, the wisdom teeth stuck around.

Fun Fact

Although technically they're called "vestigial third molars," in the vernacular they're known as "wisdom teeth" because they appear later in life, when people are supposedly wiser. (Many of us couldn't possibly claim 18 as our wisest hour, but you get the gist.)

How Do I Deal with Wisdom Teeth?

Wisdom teeth give us grief when they are impacted and only partially emerge from the gums, or are misaligned and coming in whichever way they feel like it -- often sideways. If left too long, their roots can grow perilously close to the nerve in the bottom of the jaw. Your dentist can take x-rays that pinpoint:

  • if you have them
  • if they need to be removed, and
  • if so, when.



If you're one of the lucky few with room in the back of your jaw, they'll quietly arrive without fanfare, aligned and perfect.

At that point, your only obligation is to smile big!


Photo credit: Flickr


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