Oh! My aching wisdom teeth!
Have you ever wondered why people have aches and pains from wisdom teeth? Some people think wisdom teeth may be evolutionary ‘left-overs’. Others wonder if wisdom teeth have simply not yet evolved perfectly. What’s the answer?
Orthodontist John W. Cuozzo, DDS, MS, from New Jersey in the United States, says wisdom teeth are definitely not evidence for evolution. He says that from the vast amount of research he has done on Neanderthal children’s fossils, the problem seems to be that human jaws are shrinking as time goes on.
“Based on my Neanderthal research and current studies,” Dr Cuozzo says, “it seems as if human jaws are becoming smaller over time. This has made the space in the back of the jaws smaller and smaller for the eruption and proper positioning in the bite for third molars, also known as wisdom teeth.”
Dr Cuozzo believes the reason this is happening is that children are maturing much faster today than in the past.
An excavation in 1990 of some graves in Griswold, Connecticut, dated from the late 1600s-1700 seems to confirm his research. There were 13 children’s remains discovered. Only one was found with initials on the wood of the coffin. It read N.B.—age 13 and was written in brass tacks.
When the teeth of the lower jaw were examined at the Armed Forces Insititute of Pathology (AFIP) in Washington, D.C., the root and crown development indicated that, by today’s standards, these teeth should have belonged to a female child of 9 1/2 years, or a male child of 10 years, yet the child was 13.
“This means,” Dr Cuozzo says, “that three or four hundred years ago a child took 13 years to reach the stage that our children today do in 9 to 10 years. This points to a rapid maturation today.”
Dr Cuozzo duplicated all of the dental X-rays and photographs of these children at AFIP in 1992.
He says wisdom teeth need more space than can develop in our shortened jaw growth period. Children are taller today, and mature earlier, probably because of improved early nutrition (not evolutionary improvement). But the facial bones need more than nutrition—they need time. “It’s time we don’t get any more.”
It is this fact, that the wisdom teeth are trying to erupt into a jaw space too small for them, which causes many of the problems. He says that there are other problems also with the eruption of wisdom teeth, and that many people do not even develop wisdom teeth today.
“This is not from a process of evolution, but devolution,” he says. “The degeneration and reduction of complexity of the human body is what is really happening.
“This, of course, is due to the fact that Adam fell and we have been suffering and groaning under the curse resulting from this fall ever since.”
Although the third molars are called ‘wisdom’ teeth, they have no true connection with gaining wisdom or intelligence. They got their name because they usually erupt between the late teen years and the age of 21—which has traditionally been the ‘age of wisdom’.
One of the more noticeable features from paintings and drawings of folk who lived in the late 1700's through to the early 1900's appears to be the size of the jaw (the width of the mouth in some drawings is almost the width of the face). Would this have any bearing on the ability of the mouth to accommodate the 3rd molar? An aspect of this that could be worth investigating is that the diet of these early folk included a lot more rough and unprocessed foods and this had an effect in causing the mouth to be larger, and maybe not so much a genetic condition but an epigenetic or even simply a physical condition.
I think it should also be noted that this shrinking of the jaw might be connected to the human population in well developed countries growing taller as well due to children receiving better nutrition. This wouldnt have been the case as recent as 50 plus years ago let alone for children 200-300 years ago aswell which would explain why they where shorter and didnt physically mature as fast as today.
Another contributing factor may be changes in diet. Weston A. Price proposed this based on his research. In 1939, he published Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, detailing his global travels studying the diets and nutrition of various cultures. The book concludes that aspects of a modern Western diet (particularly flour, sugar, and modern processed vegetable fats) cause nutritional deficiencies that are a cause of many dental issues and health problems. The dental issues he observed include the proper development of the facial structure (to avoid overcrowding of the teeth) in addition to dental caries.