Why do we have wisdom teeth?

Why do humans have wisdom teeth if so many of them get removed soon after they appear?

Wisdom teeth, the third molars in the back of our mouths, are so called because they normally appear in late teenage, early adulthood – the time in life we supposedly have learned some wisdom. But around 25% of people don’t develop all four. Of those that do emerge, it is not uncommon for them to appear at nasty angles, jutting into the tooth next door causing potentially dangerous infections and pain. Because of this, for decades many people have them surgically removed.

Listener Khaleel was preparing to have his remaining wisdom teeth removed when he wrote to CrowdScience to ask about them. Given that they can seem to cause more harm than good, why has evolution resulted in these troublesome teeth? But many people have perfectly uneventful relationships with their wisdom teeth, so have we perhaps removed more than we needed to over the years?

Anand Jagatia chews it over with the help of surgeons and dentists to try to extract the truth – why DO we have wisdom teeth?

Featuring: Tanya M Smith, Professor in the Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution at Griffith University, Australia Patrick Magennis, Consultant Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeon at University Hospitals Aintree, Liverpool UK Verena Toedtling, Dentist and Specialist Oral Surgeon, UK

Presented by Anand Jagatia Produced by Alex Mansfield

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