Saturday, November 5, 2011

Wisdom Teeth: Why Do We Have Them & What Do They Do?

It seems wisdom teeth simply pop out to taunt us, cause pain and bring the unneeded expense of a trip to the dentist. It’s enough to make you wonder why the heck wisdom teeth are even there?

The theory among anthropologists is that wisdom teeth were once an evolutionary adaptation. Early humans didn’t cook their food and subsisted on a diet of pretty rough cuisine like meats, roots, nuts and leaves. Those foods required a lot more chewing power to make the meal easy to swallow.

That’s where a third set of molars come in. Wisdom teeth are pretty much unneeded molars that tend to take up lots of real estate in your jaw, whether or not it is available. Think of it as eminent domain, but the teeth you want to keep are the ones that will get evicted if you don’t get rid of those wisdom teeth.

Eventually, modern conveniences such as forks, knives and cooking came into play and we started getting used to a much softer (and tastier) diet. Today, wisdom teeth go by the biological term vestigial organs. Basically, parts we don’t need and are waiting for evolution to do away with.

Compared to the rest of our chompers, wisdom teeth tend to erupt later in life. This contradicts the much more predictable process in which we lose our baby teeth and grow adult ones. Wisdom teeth actually begin developing when you are about ten years old, but typically wait until adulthood to burst forth in all their painful glory. They were dubbed wisdom teeth because they pop up between the ages of 17 and 25, when we are considered much wiser.

But evolution is tricky and some of the lucky ones will go their entire lives without getting their wisdom teeth. I guess you could say they are more evolved. Those who are unlucky enough to get wisdom teeth usually get between one and four. For some reason, the number varies.

No matter how many wisdom teeth you end up with, not getting them yanked can lead to all kinds of problems. While wisdom teeth continue to come in, our jaws have actually become smaller over time and when wisdom teeth erupt, they tend to throw everything out of whack.

The unwanted teeth tend to crowd and displace permanent teeth, causing damage and plenty of pain. On the other hand, some people develop perfectly functioning wisdom teeth that co-exist complication-free with other teeth. You are far out of the norm if this is the case for you. Roughly 85 percent of the population will have wisdom teeth that need to be removed to ensure maximum oral health.

If you think your wisdom teeth might be coming in, it is time to set up an appointment. Your dentist or the support staff, such as a dental assisting professional, will be able to tell you if it’s time to get those wisdom teeth removed.

Most dentists recommend getting wisdom teeth removed as soon as possible. The younger you are, the less likely complications will arise. Those who wait until after the age of 35 typically have a much higher risk of complications, longer healing times, tougher surgeries and more risk of infection. Getting those teeth yanked in your late teens or early 20s is the best bet. You’ll be back on your feet in no time.

Wisdom tooth extraction is a bit of a process and some are harder to get to than others, so oral surgery might be a necessity. Make sure you visit a quality dentist with good support staff.

George Cullin is a recent college grad who enjoys freelancing and reading on his freetime. His other hobbies are snowboarding and actually writing childrens books and hopes to be published in the future.