What are “wisdom” teeth and why do we remove them?

They’re called wisdom teeth because they’re the latest to arrive—when a person’s (presumably) older and wiser.

The funny thing about our molars is that none of them form beneath any of the baby teeth. They develop only after our jaws grow big enough to make space for them. The problem arises when your jaw doesn’t quite grow big enough for all the molars that want to come in.

Wisdom teeth are fascinating things— if you forget the pain and complications they cause, that is. The complications— the fact that so many people no longer have room for their wisdom teeth—allow you to see evolution in action.

Early humans needed these extra molars to help them chew the tough fibers in meat and vegetation. Being closer to the jaw gave the teeth better leverage. People’s jaws were larger and protruding, in order to make room for all of the teeth necessary for masticating a good meal way back in 10,000 B.C.

But ever since humans discovered how to tame that blazing red fire, we have no longer needed those teeth to survive. We’ve learned how to cook tough foods well enough so that they can be eaten without much effort.

The size and shape of our faces and jaws have changed to deal with these lifestyle advancements. Unfortunately for many, our teeth haven’t completely taken the hint.

We still try to grow these extra molars in the back, despite the fact that we no longer need them and often don’t have space for them.