So let me set the scene; I was sat in bed in my new flat the other day and wanted something to read. Something quite easy, unlike many of my textbooks for this coming year at university (!), so I picked up a book that I haven’t read in a long time: Popular Science FYI. This book answers some of the most asked questions of the time on science and I thought hey, this could be a good way to pass the time – learn even more pointless trivia!
Now for months I have been suffering with the development of my wisdom teeth, and I can assure any of you that have not yet either started having them rip through your gums or even have wisdom teeth… you are NOT missing out! The pain is real. Therefore when I saw a page in the book dedicated purely to wisdom teeth I was instantly drawn to it.
I don’t really know about any of you, but (at least before I read this book and wrote this post), I knew nothing at all about wisdom teeth; why they develop so late in adolescence or why they even develop at all. To be perfectly honest, I’ve been doing just fine with my teeth as they are for the past 10 years or so thank you very much nature! However, they are a thing, they do happen, and so I thought it might be of interest to some of you to learn exactly what they are.
So what’s the deal with wisdom teeth?
Adults can have up to 32 teeth with the wisdom teeth being the last to appear right at the back of the mouth. Wisdom teeth in human beings are known as the third molars. There are normally four that develop in the human mouth but some people often only see one or two pushing through in their life time. They are quite unpredictable and can have different effects on different people. Generally pain, I’m not going to lie to you. They tend to require extraction because most adults have overcrowded mouths and can only comfortably cohabit 28 teeth. However, most toothed mammals do have room for these molars, and according to evolutionary biologists, so did Neanderthals and other early hominids.
According to scientists, genetics controls the shape and size of an individual’s jaw (cheers parents), hence affecting whether or not there is room for additional teeth to grow and subsequently stay. However, diet also affects development. It also depends on how much chewing stress is exerted on the jaw throughout childhood.
As we tend to cook our food as opposed to tearing meat from a carcass, it is generally much softer and therefore easier to chew. This has made our jaws shrink over the years as compared to those of our ancestors who would therefore have stronger, larger jaws. As it stands they could cope with three sets of molars, we cannot.
So what can we do to stop these extra teeth from being extracted?
Unfortunately, it seems that there is no hope for adults. There is evidence that eating a lot of raw root vegetables as a child might help your jaw to grow large enough to hold wisdom teeth but realistically, the odds are quite slim and as 15% of the population never actually develop Wisdom teeth, you might as well just pray that you fall into that category.
As a little side note, it has also been found that a few people actually grow more than four… I can tell you I am hoping and praying that I am not one of these.
If you, like me, experience pain when your wisdom teeth appear, it is recommended that you regularly use mouthwash and/or a mixture of mildly hot water mixed with salt. These help to keep the inflamed gum healthy and free of bacteria and waste, preventing infections. If the pain does not improve – head over to your local dentist and they can recommend whether or not you may need them to be removed.
Sadly in the end, I think the only thing I have accomplished after researching all of this is learning that I seriously hate my ancestors! It is an interesting demonstration of yet another aspect of evolution caused by environmental factors, and I would have liked to ask a leading scientist their thoughts on the matter because I feel like this is actually quite an interesting topic of human biology that is barely mentioned.
So until there is more evidence and research happening, I’m just going to sit in my pyjamas eating soup and ice cream… and feel rather sorry for myself!
Until next time,