Why do we have wisdom teeth? © Getty Images

Why do we have wisdom teeth?

A word to the wise, dentistry is quicker than evolution.

Asked by: Rebecca Gill, Leatherhead

Advertisement

We evolved from hominids that had longer jaws for chewing raw meat and plants. Extra molars are an advantage, but they don’t emerge until adulthood. This gives the jaw time to grow large enough to accommodate them.

As teeth are widest at the top, spaces between them can also emerge as the molars start to wear down. The new teeth at the back encourage the remaining teeth to shuffle up and close the gaps. We don’t need wisdom teeth any more, nor do we have enough room for them. But dentistry offers a quicker fix than evolution.


Advertisement

Subscribe to BBC Focus magazine for fascinating new Q&As every month and follow @sciencefocusQA on Twitter for your daily dose of fun science facts.