Wisdom teeth are vestigial, meaning that human beings no longer have a need for them. In most cases, they are likely to cause more problems than benefits.
As a child, you were probably very excited the first time you lost a tooth. You may have celebrated the loss of that first tooth (and the ones that followed) by placing it under your pillow and waiting excitedly for the tooth fairy to swap it for some cold hard cash. Almost every culture has some special way of marking this event; the transition from “baby teeth” to permanent ones is one of the first universal rights of passage of childhood.
Fast-forward about a decade, and the arrival of the “wisdom teeth” is a completely different story. Far from being eagerly anticipated, this event can be fraught with challenges and, along with them, some difficult decisions. Wisdom teeth can be problematic, and their removal – although not a foregone conclusion – often becomes necessary.
The teeth that you associate with increased acumenare actually your third molars, following the ones you acquired around the ages of six and twelve respectively. They are considered vestigial, meaning that they once had an essential function but are now all but obsolete. It is believed that these extra molars were necessary for prehistoric humans, hunter-gatherers whose diet consisted largely of hard-to-chew foods that wore their teeth down over time. Your ancient ancestors also had larger jaws, providing plenty of room for a third set of molars. Over time, with the advent of both agriculture and cooking, the human diet became significantly easier to chew. Meanwhile, evolution reduced the size of humans’ jaws, forcing the same number of teeth to fit within a smaller space. Nature may be slowly phasing out the human wisdom tooth: in certain indigenous human populations, there is an almost 100 percent rate of agenesis – or failure to develop – of wisdom teeth.
Because you no longer require wisdom teeth to successfully chew your food, you can have them removed without affecting your ability to eat – but should you? The answer to that question is complicated and should be explored with a professional. Because there is often inadequate room for them, these extra molars tend to become impacted, or crowded so that they can’t fully or properly emerge. This can lead to painful infections as partially erupted teeth allow food particles to become trapped under the gum. Typically, if an upper wisdom tooth is removed the lower must be as well, and vice versa. Otherwise, the tooth that’s left behind may begin to grow too far out of the jaw once it has nothing to rest on. Removal may be advised even if your third molars present no immediate problems, as the recovery becomes more difficult as you age. These and other factors should be carefully weighed when considering wisdom tooth removal.
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