Our ancestors, the cavemen, had much larger jaws than we do. In those primitive times before McDonalds, they needed more teeth to grind up the foliage in their diet.
In response to our improved diet(?), we evolved smaller jaws. Ignorant of this change, our very back teeth will often still try and crowd their way in up the back, top and bottom. These ‘third molars’ normally appear between the ages of 17 and 25.
The Romans called the third molar dens sapientiae, (tooth of the wise), because they come at a later stage than the rest of our teeth – by which time we have become more mature (remember, the Romans did not have eposure to the behaviour at University colleges) They are known by as Wisdom Teeth in many languages, but there are some interesting exceptions. In Greek, they are called ‘the dicisplinarians’, in Turkish they are known as the ’20 year tooth’, in Korean as the love teeth, (ooh), and in Japanese as the ‘unknown to the parent teeth’, because you are meant to have left home before you get them.
35% people do not devlop wisdom teeth at all – I wonder if this is because they are at a higher stage of evolution, or because they never become wise.
Wisdom teeth are said to be impacted if for some reason they do not come out all the way. This may be because they are abutting other teeth, or sometimes they get stuck under the gums. Once upon a time, it was common practice to remove all wisdom teeth as a preventative measure in case they become impacted, or in case they crowded out the other teeth.
This practice is not supported by the evidence, and the current recommendation of the UK’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence and The American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons is that teeth that are not causing problems should be left in place whether impacted or not.
However, wisdom teeth will often cause trouble.
They may damage neighbouring teeth, and they are awkward to clean. This can lead to chronic infections of the tooth or of the neighbouring gums (periodontal infections). I have discovered that I am a slack wisdom-teeth-cleaner, and today I had the pleasure of having three of my four dens sapoentiae extracted by Dr Hoffmam, a periodontist.
From now on you will notice that I am only one quarter as wise as previously.
At least I can look forward to the tooth fairy coming tonight.