What do your wisdom teeth have in common with your appendix and your tailbone?
All of these body parts are what experts call as vestigial organs. Your prehistoric ancestors have a diverse array of body parts that proved useful to them. But through the course of human evolution, a few of these became useless vestiges of the past, hence the term vestigial organ.
Take your wisdom teeth, for example.
Wisdom teeth as vestigial organs
Why do humans have wisdom teeth in the first place?
According to some anthropologist, early humans evolved such that they developed a third set of molars. These molars proved to be beneficial for their diet, consisting mostly of roots, nuts, leaves, and the occasional meat. These foods required an extensive amount of chewing.
But once people discovered cooking as well as invented utensils, especially knives and forks, wisdom teeth were rendered useless.
Wisdom teeth are the last set of teeth to erupt, usually between a person’s 17th and 25th birthday. These teeth are called such because it is believed that a person has become wiser at those ages. The number of wisdom teeth that erupt can vary from person to person. Some people do not get wisdom teeth while others may have over five.
Why you might need to have your wisdom teeth removed
Another crucial evolutionary change that is linked to your wisdom teeth is the size of your jaw. Compared to prehistoric humans, modern people have smaller jaws. What has that have to do with wisdom teeth?
As the modern human jaw became smaller, it became more difficult for wisdom teeth to emerge. And sometimes, these teeth cannot fully emerge because other teeth that erupted before them block their way.
Now when your wisdom teeth become impacted, there is a possibility that food debris can become trapped between the teeth and the gums. This increases the risk of both the increase in the population of harmful bacteria in your mouth as well as infections.
Another dental problem associated with wisdom teeth that do not fully erupt is crowding or even displacement of the other permanent teeth. In some instances, a cyst can form around the impacted wisdom tooth. In turn, this cyst can cause other problems like damage to the bones supporting the teeth, expansion of the jaw, and damage to the other teeth. In some rare cases, cysts can develop into tumors.
Should you have your wisdom teeth removed?
Despite advances in dental technology, dentists cannot predict whether a wisdom tooth can cause problems down the road when it erupts. Many people do not encounter any issue with their wisdom teeth while others are subjected to a host of problems attributed to wisdom teeth. In fact, the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons says that about 85 percent of people need to have their wisdom teeth removed.
Should you have your wisdom teeth removed?
To better answer that question, your dentist needs to evaluate your teeth’s position as well as your mouth’s shape. He also needs to factor in your age.
Ideally, wisdom teeth should be removed before the age of 35. When you get your wisdom tooth extracted as a young adult, the associated risks become minimal while healing from the procedure is faster and less complicated. On the other hand, if the extraction is done after a person reaches the age of 35, he is likely to encounter a few difficulties related to complications and recovery.
Another advantage of getting your wisdom tooth extracted as a young adult is the procedure becomes less complicated for you and your dentist. You see, the older you get, the harder your bones and teeth become. This makes extraction more difficult for the dentist.
Although some people do not experience problems with their wisdom teeth, dentists will recommend their extraction to prevent problems later on.
An overview of the procedure
Wisdom teeth extraction begins with the application of a local anesthetic on the area where the wisdom tooth is. The local anesthetic will numb that area. In some instances, a general anesthetic may be used instead of a local anesthetic. A general anesthetic is often used when there are several wisdom teeth to be extracted simultaneously. Another advantage of general anesthetic over a local anesthetic is that the former enables you to sleep throughout the procedure.
The day before the procedure, you will be asked by your dentist to avoid eating or drinking after midnight.
To extract the wisdom tooth, your dentist will need to make an incision on the gum tissue and remove the bone material that may be covering the tooth. After that, he will need to separate the wisdom tooth and the tissue connecting it to the bone.
After the tooth has been extracted, the area your dentist worked on may be stitched up. Some dentists use stitches that dissolve while others use stitches that need to be manually removed.
In general, recovery can take three to four days. However, if your wisdom tooth is either impacted or erupted at an awkward angle, you can expect at least a week to recover fully.
Evolution is a long process spanning across generations. Sometime in the future, humans may evolve to a point where their wisdom teeth won’t erupt at all. But until then, you might want to consider getting yours extracted.
Dr. Zul Paliwalla is the General and Cosmetic British Dentist at NOA Dental Clinic, specializing in smile-related concerns. With over 33 years of experience in the UK, Dr. Zul has successfully worked on and improved many internationally recognized smiles. He is a certified Invisalign® GOLD provider as well and has brought his elite expertise to Dubai not only to enjoy the sun, sea and sand, but also to offer his brand of personalized smile makeovers.