Wisdom teeth don’t seem so smart when they become impacted, which can force other teeth out of position, and contribute to tooth decay and gum disease among other dental health problems.
But a recent study suggests that future generations may not have to worry about wisdom teeth removal, a dental procedure that has for so long and for so many been something of a rite of passage. With time, as the way our teeth grow gradually changes, evidence indicates our bodies may be phasing out wisdom teeth.
Wisdom Teeth: Late Bloomers
Wisdom teeth are the rear, or third, molars, and they are the final teeth to erupt. Wisdom teeth usually emerge in one’s late teens or early 20s.
Not everyone develops wisdom teeth, and not everyone who does needs to have them removed. According to the American Dental Association, wisdom teeth are generally considered for removal when they result in pain and/or infection, or pose a threat for other dental problems including:
- Damage to surrounding teeth
- Periodontal disease
Wisdom teeth that erupt completely and are properly positioned may not need to be removed. Regular dental checkups prior to the development of wisdom teeth are important, because they allow your dentist to monitor the progress of your wisdom teeth and develop an individualized treatment plan if it appears that your wisdom teeth will affect other aspects of your oral health.
Are Wisdom Teeth Vanishing?
The growth of each tooth in the human mouth is guided by a formula that progressively changes as we adapt and evolve, according to a recent study published in the science journal Nature. The research indicates that the mathematical formula that applies to wisdom teeth lags behind other teeth, and that as that formula catches up we will eventually stop developing wisdom teeth.
An April article in The Week regarding the study describes how researchers used rodent and human teeth to demonstrate that tooth growth in mammals is governed by a mathematical equation, in which jaw tissue activates the growth of one molar, and that molar sends a chemical signal to the next molar with the information it needs to grow without interfering with the previous molar’s territory. Researchers used the same model to predict what may happen to our teeth over time, and it appears the days of wisdom teeth may be numbered.
Our ancient ancestors had larger wisdom teeth, but smaller frontal teeth. Over centuries, and influenced in part by dietary changes, the molar teeth closest to the fronts of our mouths grew larger, and the wisdom teeth began to shrink. But many people’s mouths don’t have the space to properly accommodate wisdom teeth when they emerge, and thanks to existing molars wisdom teeth are not critical to bite function.
Still, such changes take time, and wisdom teeth (and the occasional need for wisdom teeth extraction) aren’t going away any time soon. If you’re seeking knowledgeable, compassionate dental care in the Columbia, SC, area, please call Smile Columbia Dentistry at (803) 781-9090 to schedule your appointment.