The enigma of wisdom teeth

Dra. Guillem
Specialist in Endodontics and Dental Aesthetics

Since the beginning of time, humanity was assailed by one doubt: what are wisdom teeth good for? Teeth that usually erupt late, if they come through at all, sometimes push bothering the other teeth or sometimes encyst complicating the extraction. Finally, the enigma of this oral hindrance has been resolved by Australian scientists.

Our ancestors, the hominids, had a third molar in proper condition: four times higher than ours and with a flat surface ideal for chewing. So how could those great tools convert into our useless wisdom teeth? Many hypotheses talk about evolutionary changes in diet or cultural advancement.

Kathryn Kavanagh, a developmental biologist of the University of Massachusetts, proposed in 2007 a theoretical model of teething development in mammals. Her complex results are explained through the concept “inhibition cascade”: when a tooth is developing, it sends out signals to its neighbouring teeth to activate or repress it arranging the size of the whole space. Now, Alistair Evans, a colleague of Kavanagh, published a research article in Nature where he reveals that the mentioned inhibition model can be applied to hominids and explains the degeneration of the third molar. In fact, millions of years ago, when our genus Homo appeared, the initial big denture drastically reduced its total size and the third molar was minimized to what it is today.

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