Why Do We Have Wisdom Teeth?

Picture of a female hand holding a model of a tooth

We’ve all seen it at one point or another—a friend or family member who has just had their wisdom teeth removed; with their swollen jaws and their inability to eat solid food for a few weeks, you may have found yourself wondering, why do we even have wisdom teeth when so many are forced to have them removed?

In a sense, wisdom teeth have become the appendix of the dental industry—unnecessary and often in need of extraction.  Unless your wisdom teeth come in perfectly aligned or you were fortunate enough to be born without them, you will, in all likelihood, have this third set of impacted molars surgically removed between the ages of 17 to 25.  Despite the misnomer, wisdom teeth are not a rite of passage nor do they provide knowledge; instead, anthropologists tie their development to our ancestors’ diet.

Thousands of years ago, these additional molars allowed our ancestors to more effectively breakdown tough foods such as raw meat, roots, nuts, and leaves.  As time passed, Homo sapiens developed agriculture and began preparing their food. Because excessive force was no longer necessary with these softer food sources, our jaws gradually became smaller as a result of this evolutionary process.  Unfortunately, our teeth have not evolved at the same rate, meaning that our jaws are no longer large enough to accommodate these extra molars.

As a result, wisdom teeth either become impacted, failing to emerge because there is not enough room for them to properly break through the gums, or a dentist may recommend removal due to overcrowding of the teeth.  Neither of these circumstances, which stem from evolutionary shortcomings, are ideal for the patient. Impacted molars often cause pain and swelling while overcrowded teeth makes it more likely that food will get trapped between the molars for an extended period of time, leading to an increased risk of infection.

The good news is, even if you are afflicted with either of these common conditions, you may not have to deal with the nuisance of all four wisdom teeth.  The number of wisdom teeth a person has can range from one to four. It stands to reason that the fewer wisdom teeth you have, the less invasive your surgery will be, potentially resulting in a swifter recovery time.

Because some people are either missing a few or all of their wisdom teeth, and our diets have drastically changed since our ancestors’ time, it stands to reason that humans may eventually stop producing this extra set of molars all together.  Like our shrinking jawlines, our teeth may be adapting to our current diet. Perhaps, these missing teeth are the missing link to our evolutionary future. However, until then, it is important to be proactive when it comes to your oral health.  Consult Alvarado Family Dental Center if you have any complications or concerns about your wisdom teeth, and we can recommend a treatment plan that is right for you.

Alireza Movassaghi, D.D.S and Other Dentist Dr. Alireza Movassaghi brings 30 years of experience to the practice at Alvarado Family Dental Center. As a graduate of the USC School of Dentistry, he works tirelessly to expand access to dental care throughout the Los Angeles area. Along with his passion for expert dental care, he exhibits a love of soccer and beautiful cars.
Skip to content