Wisdom Teeth

Q: Why do we even have wisdom teeth?

A: Because they were handy 10,000 years ago. A long time ago the human diet consisted of rough foliage. The prevailing theory is that the limitations of our digestive systems required considerably more chewing and pulverizing of plant material to assist in nutrient extraction. This is the primary purpose of molars and they work like a millstone to break food up into a pulp and mix it with saliva which conveniently contains digestive enzymes. In effect, digestion begins in the mouth.

The introduction of agriculture resulted in a greater availability of more nutrient-rich foods that were also considerably softer and easier to digest. The decreased need for heavy grinding regions in the mouth has resulted in a gradual reduction in the length and width of the jaws and this has resulted in less available space for the third set of molars. Wisdom teeth are named as such because they emerge from the jaws last of all during the all-knowing, wise teenage years and the jaws have typically ceased growing.

In short, we have wisdom teeth because our ancestors needed them to smash plants and make them digestible. We don’t need them anymore because of farming. These days wisdom teeth are considered a vestigial structure and will likely phase out over the next several thousand generations. Keep an eye out for this if you are around then.

 

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