Possible Function of Wisdom Teeth

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    What is the possible function of wisdom teeth? The process of evolution always intrigues me. Darwin’s theory, and the process of constant evolution, has grabbed my attention since I was in middle school.

    Long story short, I am a student of biology and today I learnt about human dentition. When my teacher said that we have 32 teeth naturally, but due to evolution, only a few per cent of the total population has complete dentition, it got me confused.

    She said that wisdom teeth are more like accessories now, and the people who get their third molars have to get them extracted mostly.

    So now my question is, why do we not have third molars? What is the reason behind their sudden absence? And what could be the possible function of wisdom teeth in natural dentition?

    I asked my teacher this, but she said that it is a complicated process and out of my course. I know I can’t rest until I get the answers, kindly help me.

    #911 Reply
    Reeha Amin

    Before we define possible function of wisdom teeth, what your teacher said is totally correct. Yes, only a small ratio of population has the complete dentition. And, this process of evolution is in fact quite complicated. But don’t you worry, we’ve got you covered. I will try to explain this process in a simplified manner.

    You see, third molars didn’t disappear suddenly. It took a long and slow process to get to the current state. And although it is complex, there are still some possibilities of how this may have happened.

    As you know, humans are constantly evolving. Also, the organs that are not used get atrophied. For example, appendix. In our ancestors, the food was pretty much raw and they used appendix for digestion purposes. But as development was made, our food habits changed. Now we don’t consume the food that requires complex digestion, thus the appendix got shrunk, and now it has no use.

    Likewise, due to the introduction of a softer and refined diet, we do not need to chew that much. Our foods are easy to swallow as compared to our ancestors who ate hard foods. Due to their eating habits, they needed a strong dentition. So it is possible that third molars were used by them to chew hard foods. And since we don’t eat such foods thus we do not require that kind of dentition anymore.

    Similarly, the size of the human jaw is constantly evolving too. It is a lot smaller than it used to be. Now, our mouth cannot accommodate all 32 teeth. Hence, the people who do get all their third molars, need extractions.

    You will be surprised but wisdom teeth aren’t the only ones facing evolution. The second incisors and even the second premolars are going through it too. It is possible that after a long time, we won’t be seeing those in human dentition as well.

    I hope I have simplified this complex process for you and you learn what is the possible function of wisdom teeth.

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