The third and last set of molars was known as “teeth of wisdom” from the seventeenth century to the nineteenth century, when their name changed to “wisdom teeth”. Linguists suggest that they’re referred as wisdom teeth because they appear much later than the other teeth, when a person matures into adulthood, usually between the ages of 17 and 25 years. Basically, they appear at an age when the person is “wiser” compared to when the other teeth erupted.
Scientific studies have accentuated the idea that the third molars do, indeed, develop and erupt when the person is wiser. Recent studies revealed that the human brain continues to develop right through adolescence. In fact, many researchers believe that the brain reaches full maturity at the age of 25. This supports the assumption of the ancestors that the eruption of the third molars signified the end of the carefree attitude of childhood, as the individual welcomed the responsibilities of adulthood.
Role of Wisdom Teeth
Science suggests that wisdom teeth were extremely useful in the past, but as human diet changed, their relevance progressively subsided. Human evolution changed man’s eating habits. In the past, human beings’ diet comprised mainly course foods that caused teeth to wear down or abrade, so considerably that they occupied less jaw space over time.
The food consumed was so tough to chew that the jaw had to work harder, causing it to evolve into a larger bone. These factors, combined with the frequent loss of teeth at an early age, resulted in more oral space for wisdom teeth when they erupted.
Today, foods are easier to chew, and advances in dental care have significantly reduced the incidence of early tooth loss and tooth wear. A higher rate of tooth retention translated to inadequate space in the jaw to accommodate wisdom teeth. The result is impacted, abnormally positioned teeth that cannot fully erupt. In this regard, there are three categories of wisdom teeth:
Fully erupted – they are fully developed and properly aligned with the molars
Partially erupted – only a portion of the teeth is visible
Un-erupted – impacted teeth that remain trapped in the jawbone unable to erupt
The latter two categories have unusual positioning that may make them difficult to clean properly. Food particles left behind convert to plaque that can eventually lead to gum disease, tooth decay, and infections. In some cases, impacted wisdom tooth can form cysts that damage the roots of adjacent, healthy teeth, the nerves, and jawbone.
To avoid dental problems with your wisdom teeth, it is important to schedule regular dental check-ups. Your dentist can help spot possible problems early and treat them before they become a nuisance.