ONE OF THE NOTABLE rites of passage for many young adults is the removal of wisdom teeth. While there are individuals who have ample space in their jaws to accommodate these third molars and others who never develop them at all, for those who require wisdom teeth extraction, it can be an opportunity for swollen cheek pictures, amusing anesthesia videos, and indulging in plenty of ice cream and smoothies. But what’s the story behind these teeth that so many people need to have removed?
Why Do We Have Teeth That Don’t Fit?
Why do we grow an additional set of molars if they don’t fit in our mouths? In the past, we believed that this was due to genetic remnants from prehistoric times. However, a more recent and widely accepted theory suggests that it relates to the disparity between our modern diet and the diet of our ancient ancestors. Just like muscles, bone can atrophy or grow depending on the demands placed upon it.
Our hunter-gatherer ancestors engaged in intense jaw workouts by grinding fibrous plants and consuming raw meat, which stimulated sufficient bone growth to accommodate the emergence of wisdom teeth. In contrast, our softer, cooked, and processed diet often fails to provide the necessary resistance for our jaw bones to grow large enough to accommodate these additional molars. (It is important to note that attempting to test this theory is not recommended.)
Why Are Wisdom Teeth Often Extracted?
Despite the increasing number of individuals who either never develop wisdom teeth or only partially develop them, most people experience their eruption between late teens and early twenties. However, problems arise when there isn’t enough space in the jaw to accommodate them. Wisdom teeth often become impacted, trapped beneath the gums, and can lead to the formation of cysts or damage to the surrounding bone tissue or neighboring teeth. Consequently, extraction is frequently recommended to prevent complications.
How Do Wisdom Teeth Affect Orthodontic Treatment?
Contemporary evidence indicates that wisdom teeth have minimal impact on dental crowding, meaning they do not need to be removed solely for the purpose of aligning the other teeth. However, if extraction becomes necessary for other reasons, it can be performed alongside orthodontic treatment.
It is also important to dispel the myth that wisdom teeth can cause a post-braces smile to become crooked. While teeth naturally shift as we age and subject them to wear, this phenomenon is unrelated to the presence or absence of wisdom teeth. (Remember to wear your retainers diligently!)
Let Us Help You Maintain a Healthy Smile!
Every individual’s situation with wisdom teeth is unique. Some may require removal due to impaction, while others may not develop any or all of them. There are fortunate individuals who benefit from the additional chewing power provided by the extra set of molars. At our practice, we are here to guide you in determining which category you fall into and address any queries you may have concerning wisdom teeth and orthodontic treatment.