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Why Are They Called Wisdom Teeth?

Most of us have them, some of us keep them and some of us don’t. Wisdom teeth are your rearmost molars, on each side top and bottom. What do you know about them?

You may have heard the explanation that wisdom teeth come in when we are older and wiser rather than when we are young and foolish, hence the name. Actually, the origin of the name is a little more complicated.

It is generally accepted that the term “Wisdom Teeth” is from a mistranslation of the Dutch word ‘verstandskiezen’ which translates literally as ‘far standing molars’. Many cultures address wisdom teeth differently, for example in Turkey they refer to them as the 20th year tooth, in Japanese the name translates as “unknown to the parents” because wisdom teeth usually erupt after the child has moved away from home.

If we don’t all get them, and those that do don’t seem to need them, why are wisdom teeth still around? Anthropologists believe that they were essential when we were eating leaves, nuts, roots and meat, all of which required sturdy chewing power which caused our jaw bones to become larger. Back then we also often lost teeth at an early age so by the time the wisdom teeth came in we had room for them.

But our diet changed three to five thousand years ago and gradually, along with that change, came smaller jaws and less room for our late erupting wisdom teeth. Modern dentistry helps prevent tooth loss so our wisdom teeth have to squeeze into a small space or they become trapped in the jawbone, impacted, and are unable to erupt at all.

Sometime our wisdom teeth erupt with barely a whimper and sometimes they burst onto the scene with a bang and refuse to play nice with our other teeth, causing overcrowding and resulting in extractions.

If your wisdom teeth, or your child’s wisdom teeth, have not erupted yet what do you need to know in order to avoid trouble? The best way to prevent future problems with your wisdom teeth is to visit your dentist on a regular basis. Yearly oral examinations and x-rays when necessary will help your dentist to determine if treatment is necessary.

Contact Dr. Lathangue at Dogwood Dental Health for more information or to book an appointment.