Why Do We Have Wisdom Teeth? Exploring the Role and Reason

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Why Do We Have Wisdom Teeth? Exploring the Role and Reason

February 1, 2024

Welcome to the intriguing world of wisdom teeth! Have you ever wondered why these extra molars are at the back of our mouths? While many of us can recall the discomfort and inconvenience they bring, we often forget to delve into the reasons behind their existence. In this blog post, we will get details of the purpose and evolution of wisdom teeth, uncovering fascinating insights into our dental history. Join us as we satisfy our curiosity and shed light on the wonder of these enigmatic third molars.

What Are Wisdom Teeth?

Before we delve into the reasons for their presence, let’s get acquainted with wisdom teeth. Wisdom teeth, also called the third molars, are the last teeth to come out in the human mouth. They typically appear between 17 and 25, often causing discomfort and requiring dental attention. Unlike the other teeth, wisdom teeth are located at the very back of our mouths, on each side of the upper and lower jaws. But why do we have these seemingly unnecessary additions to our dental architecture? Let’s find out!

The Purpose of Wisdom Teeth

How Many Wisdom Teeth Do We Have?

On average, humans possess four wisdom teeth, two in the upper and the other two in the lower jaw. However, some individuals may have less or no wisdom teeth at all. This natural variation can be attributed to evolutionary changes and the adaptation of our oral structures over time. But what role did they play in the lives of our ancestors, and why do we still have them today? 

The Role of Wisdom Teeth in Our Ancestors

To understand the purpose of wisdom teeth, we need to explore our ancient ancestors’ eating habits and dietary requirements. Earlier, our diet primarily consisted of rough, fibrous foods like roots, nuts, and uncooked meat, which required more grinding and chewing power. The emergence of wisdom teeth in the late teenage years or early adulthood allowed our ancestors to maintain a functional set of teeth as previous molars wore down from the abrasive diet. Thus, wisdom teeth served as “backup” molars, ensuring our ancestors could continue to chew and survive despite the wear and tear on their teeth.

The Evolutionary Significance of Wisdom Teeth 

Adapting to a Different Diet

Throughout human evolution, our diet underwent significant changes. With the advent of cooking techniques and more refined foods, our ancestors gradually altered their eating habits. Cooked food became softer, requiring less chewing force. As a result, the need for all four wisdom teeth diminished. This change in our dietary patterns catalyzed the evolutionary processes, leading to a reduction in both the size and number of wisdom teeth. 

Changes in Jaw and Dental Development

The evolution of our jaws and dental development also contributed to the diminishing importance of wisdom teeth. As our brains grew, our skulls expanded, changing our facial structures. Our jaws became shorter and narrower, leaving less space for the eruption of additional molars. Consequently, the modern human skull often lacks sufficient room for wisdom teeth to emerge in proper alignment, resulting in various dental issues.

Modern-Day Issues with Wisdom Teeth 

Impacted Wisdom Teeth

One common problem associated with wisdom teeth is impaction. Due to the limited space for eruption, wisdom teeth may become trapped below the gum line or partially emerge at an awkward angle. This can lead to numerous problems, including pain, infection, and damage to adjacent teeth. 

Dental Misalignment and Crowding

The presence of wisdom teeth can also contribute to dental misalignment and crowding. As they try to push through an already crowded dental arch, wisdom teeth may put pressure on the surrounding teeth, compelling them to shift out of alignment. This can result in overlapping teeth, bite problems, and the need for orthodontic treatment. 

Infections and Tooth Decay

As the wisdom teeth are situated at the back of the mouth, they often are hard to clean thoroughly during regular oral hygiene routines. The difficulty in reaching these areas makes them more susceptible to bacterial growth and the development of gum infections, such as pericoronitis. Moreover, their positioning and proximity to neighboring teeth can make them difficult to treat if tooth decay occurs.

Wisdom Teeth and Oral Health

Maintaining Good Oral Hygiene

To prevent complications associated with wisdom teeth, it is crucial to prioritize and perform good oral hygiene practices. Regular and thorough brushing, flossing, and rinsing with an antibacterial mouthwash can help cut down the risk of infections and tooth decay. Pay extra attention to the back of the mouth where wisdom teeth reside, ensuring the removal of food particles and bacteria.

Professional Dental Care and Monitoring

Regular visits to a dentist are essential, especially for individuals with wisdom teeth. Dentists can monitor the development and positioning of these molars and make informed decisions based on individual circumstances. X-rays and examinations can help identify possible issues quickly, allowing for timely intervention and preventing complications.

Wisdom Teeth Removal: To Extract or Not To Extract? 

Whether to extract wisdom teeth often arises, particularly when problems occur or are anticipated. The decision depends on various factors, including the individual’s dental health, the presence of complications, and the individual’s preferences.

Factors Considered in Decision-Making

  • Dental Evaluation: Dentists consider the alignment, size, and position of the wisdom teeth, as well as their potential impact on nearby teeth.
  • Presence of Symptoms: If an individual experiences pain, infection, damage to surrounding teeth, or recurring oral health issues related to the wisdom teeth, extraction may be recommended.
  • Oral Hygiene Challenges: Difficulties in cleaning and maintaining oral hygiene around the wisdom teeth can indicate a higher risk of infections and decay, which may indicate the need for extraction.
  • Individual’s Age: Younger individuals tend to have an easier recovery and quicker healing after wisdom teeth removal, making early extraction a consideration.

Are you considering wisdom teeth removal in Houston? Please consult with our experienced dental team for personalized advice and expert care. 

Potential Benefits and Risks of Extraction

Extraction of wisdom teeth can offer several benefits, such as preventing infections, relieving pain, avoiding dental misalignment, and improving oral hygiene. However, the procedure comes up with some risks, including infection, damage to adjacent structures, nerve injury, and prolonged recovery. Dentists carefully weigh the potential benefits and risks when making recommendations for extraction.


In conclusion, wisdom teeth are remnants of our evolutionary past, reflecting our ancestors’ dietary requirements and oral structures. While their purpose has diminished, wisdom teeth can still challenge oral health. Proper dental hygiene, timely evaluations, and professional monitoring can help mitigate potential complications. When necessary, extraction may be recommended to avoid infections, pain, and other issues. Remember, understanding the history and purpose of our wisdom teeth empowers us to make informed decisions about our oral health. So, let’s embrace our innate curiosity, seek dental guidance, and unravel the mysteries behind our wisdom teeth!

For personalized care and expert guidance, visit Asure Dental, your trusted dental clinic in Houston.

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