the evolution of wisdom teeth

Prompted by another thread on wisdom teeth.

Just about everybody in the US has wisdom teeth and has them removed. Or do they? What about 3rd world residents? What did they do 5000 years ago? Since evolution is so slow, I assume wisdom teeth have been around longer than that. Were there crude dentists back then? What would happen today if we just did nothing? Would it be fatal to any degree, and if so, was it fatal 5000 years ago?

Well, I had my wisdom teeth come in fully with no problem, they didn’t crowd my other teeth, and I had all of them 30 years until just one of them needed to be removed due to decay last month… so a non-trivial portion of people in the past would have kept their third molars with little or no problem (keeping in mind in the past a lot of people would be dead by my age).

Of course, infected or abscessed wisdom teeth could be fatal… but that applies to any tooth.

It was also more common to lose permanent teeth to decay in the past, so to some extent wisdom teeth might have had more use in replacing other teeth.

And yes, there have been dentists of one sort or another around for a long, long time. They weren’t doing implants or fancy root canals with pretty crowns, but “pull/knock out decayed or painful teeth” techniques have been around a long, long time.

I mean, a hunk of antler and a hammerstone can remove a bad tooth as well as knap flint into knives, just sayin’. Crude dentistry on that level isn’t rocket science. (Modern dentistry, of course, does require better tools and training)

According to this article, the need for extracting wisdom teeth, even when impacted, is grossly exaggerated.

I have my wisdom teeth and have never had the slightest problems with them.

I have all four. So does my brother. My sisters each had two removed. I think my oldest daughter has all four; her younger sister had two malformed ones removed. The two that follow aren’t of age for it to be an issue yet but are showing no problems.

I think the idea that all adults “should” have some or all wisdom teeth removed is greatly overstated, the way it was once known that “everyone” should have their appendix or tonsils removed.

I have mine and only had one removed. And the only reason I had it removed was because it was decaying and not worth saving, but that was it.
My mom’s are all impacted (and sideways, that is, laying down, the biting surface pointed forward) and with a nerve running above them so they won’t even consider touching them without a good reason, of which there isn’t for her.

Like Colibri said, they were yanking them left and right for no good reason up until recently.

I think it’s incorrect to assume that just about everybody has had them removed (if they have them). Even when they were pulling them constantly, plenty of people, like myself, saw no good reason for it and didn’t bother with it. People thousands of years ago wouldn’t have any issues with their wisdom teeth that wouldn’t have been a problem with any other teeth. My some extra cavities because of food caught way back there or their front teeth being pushed around but I doubt they were worried about that.

Wisdom teeth aren’t some special teeth that magically go bad and ruin your life as soon as they come in, regardless of what dentists were telling parents in the 80’s and 90’s (when I was a kid).

I have all 4 of my wisdom teeth, i am able to floss back there too which helps keep the tooth and gum area free of debris.

My teenage daughter has been told for years that she needs her wt removed. Only because one had the beginnings of a cavity, and the dentist strongly recommended they be removed.

I resisted, they were not compacted, yet the dentist refused to fill the cavity, which made no sense to me. The hygienist would tease about having to clean so many teeth, which made me see red and in return I wanted to send the kid 4 x year for cleanings to prevent decay in the back teeth. I suspected they didn’t even want to clean the wisdom teeth which weren’t supposed to be there

So since we have dental insurance, i decided to get the opinion from an oral surgeon. She took xrays, and then showed us that indeed one is coming in compacted and that another wisdom tooth left behind a very large cyst. Usually not an issue but they can grow into a tumor…

That sealed the deal, out they come all 4 at once. My daughter had no complications whatso ever, and is no longer worried about cavities or a cyst in her jawbone.

At my last dentist visit, they did a panoramic xray. I was fearful they would find a reason to recommend removal of my wisdom teeth (a cyst mostly). But nope, all was well. This too, after a 2 year absence from dental visits. Somehow I dropped out of rotation and neglected to realize i had not visited the dentist myself. Guess taking kids there and back twice a year i felt i had visited myself. Thought the dentist office would have reminded me of my lapse, but no. I just dropped off the roster still don’t know how that happened…

I had a lot of cavities so it made sense for me to get rid of them since it’s harder to clean back there. And one was impacted.

I had two of four removed. I had almost enough room for them all but they were producing just enough pressure to start to misalign my teeth that had been straightened with much annoyance as a teen. Removing them was more about the cosmetic than necessity. I could have had all my teeth with just a little bit of crookednessif it weren’t for modern dentistry.

when I had braces they needed to pull 4 of my teeth to get my teeth to line up. So I ended up with 8 teeth less than a standard set. My jaw was too small and that’s the main reason my teeth were out of alignment.

Also note that we have significantly smaller jaws than ancient humans. The act of chewing increases the length of the jawbone, as well as providing selection for larger jaws, making more room for the wisdom teeth. As people moved towards agriculture and a low protein, high starch diet the amount of chewing decreased, resulting in small jaws and more problems.

I heard that the problems humans have with their wisdom teeth are side effect of the development of the human capacity for speech.

From speech, we get the advantage of being able to communicate and organise in large co-operative groups. The disadvantage that goes with that is the risk of crowding and infection at the back of the jaw that affects a percentage of people.

I guess the improvement of the human diet that went with using fire to soften food, organised hunting and eventually agriculture meant that we did not need such strong back teeth and jaw muscles to crunch through hard food.

I wonder if those who benefit from healthy wisdom teeth have a little more than others of those old Neanderthal genes? Any other symptoms?

I was told that over the last 10,000 years we have tended to inherit / evolve smaller mouths (gums, jaws etc) without the corresponding size change in our teeth. So it only gradually became a problem.

I have all 4 of my wisdom teeth but only because an orthodontist yanked a bunch of other teeth for ortho purposes and as long as he was at it, did so in such a way as to leave room for the wisdoms when they came in.

Well, I am from ethnic groups that run about 2-4% Neanderthal genes…

Naw, I think it’s just normal human variation.