• Wisdom Teeth: An Evolutionary Pain In The Mouth

    Wisdom Teeth: An Evolutionary Pain In The Mouth

    They’re a hold-out from another stage of human evolution and they can cause a lot of pain as well as a number of serious oral health issues. Wisdom Teeth are the pain in the mouth you get when 32 teeth try to fill a space that Nature has designed for 28. But why would we have something growing in our body that no longer serves a function, something that in fact can be downright dangerous to us? There’s no solid answer to this much asked question.

    Anthropologists and other researchers commonly believe that wisdom teeth (sometimes referred to as the third set of molars) were evolved by our proto-human ancestors as a means of dealing with the coarse and rough materials that made up a typical diet way back when. Flash back half a million years or so and you will find that your distant aunts and uncles were snacking on a whole range of hard, unwashed and uncooked items. Raw meats, nuts, coarse vegetable matter, leaves and other readily available materials were being ground down by the more ape-like teeth of our ancestors.

    But in the passing of a mere evolutionary moment those distant cave dwellers have evolved into us. Today we dine on softer foods, we wash the dirt and sand off of our meals before we eat them and we make use of modern marvels – like knives and forks. But those vestigial parts of our anatomy continue to grow in our jaws, and you’ll in all likelihood have to have them removed at some point in your life. Like the appendix that once helped to digest the foods we consumed, wisdom teeth have evolved into painful obsolescence.

    Everyone is different, in some cases individuals can fail to grow any wisdom teeth at all, we call these people the lucky ones. But for the rest of us the typical number that appear can be anywhere from one to four. According to research published in the Journal of the Canadian Dental Association there are some (fortunately very rare) cases where more than four wisdom teeth can develop.

    As a modern human jaw is smaller than those sported by our troglodyte progenitors, when wisdom teeth form they will often be blocked or “impacted” by the other teeth around them. This can be a very painful problem. As if that isn’t bad enough, if a wisdom tooth only partially erupts from the jaw, food particles can become trapped in the tissue of the gum. This in turn will encourage the growth of germs and bacteria and if left untreated potentially dangerous infections can develop.

    If the wisdom teeth do not erupt at all, but stay tucked snugly away in the jaw, additional oral problems can arise such as the displacement of the other permanent teeth. Other rare, but serious problems related to wisdom teeth include the development of cysts and in extreme cases tumors which can lead to jaw damage and even bone destruction in extreme instances.

    “About 85 per cent of all wisdom teeth will have to be removed at some point in a person’s life”


    Depending on the individual, some very fortunate people have wisdom teeth that develop without stress and will function just like any other teeth. No surgery or extraction is called for in this case. But on average it’s expected that about 85 per cent of all wisdom teeth will have to be removed at some point in a person’s life.

    If you are like most people, and have wisdom teeth that will need to be removed, dentists and oral surgeons have learned through experience that it’s best to get the procedure over with while still a young adult. Research has shown that those who wait until after the age of 35 to have their wisdom teeth extracted are more likely to experience complications, longer healing times and a generally more difficult surgical experience.

    If you still have your wisdom teeth, and you’re concerned they may be causing you problems, your best first step is to schedule a visit with your favorite dentist. With an oral exam and a set of x-rays they’ll be able to determine the position of your wisdom teeth and let you know if they are going to cause you problems now or in the future. Numerous studies have shown that early evaluation and treatment results in a far more satisfactory outcome for the patient. Patients are generally first evaluated in the mid-teenage years by their dentist, orthodontist or even by your family medical doctor.

    If an extraction is to occur the surgery will be performed while the patient is under anesthesia. Your doctor has the training, license and experience to provide various types of anesthesia to make the procedure more comfortable. These services are provided in an environment of optimum safety, utilizing modern monitoring equipment and employing a staff experienced in anesthesia techniques.

    Wisdom teeth are a link to our more primitive past, but can cause problems if left unattended in our fast-paced modern life. The best thing to do is to check with your dentist so the correct and healthiest course of action can be taken. Don’t wait, if you have any concerns, make the appointment today.

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