Friday, August 17, 2007

Good-Bye, Wisdom Teeth

My 17-year-old had his wisdom teeth extracted this week. They were moving in on his other teeth, threatening to undo all the years of orthodontia he’d been through. Neither alternative was desirable – to repeat the braces or have the teeth pulled – but he wisely chose the short-term course of action, and the surgery was scheduled.

I, too, had my wisdom teeth out in high school, and I swelled up so badly that it broke all the blood vessels under my eyes. I looked like I’d been involved in a fistfight (and lost!). Fortunately for Dylan, he’s doing very well and has no signs of swelling. They knocked him out in the oral surgeon’s office, and we were home ninety minutes later! He was very groggy that afternoon and took a couple of naps, but by evening he was back to his old self again.

I’ve always wondered why they call the third molars "wisdom teeth." According to Wikipedia, "They are generally thought to be called wisdom teeth because they appear so late—much later than the other teeth, at an age where people are supposedly wiser than as a child, when the other teeth erupt." Wisdom teeth most often erupt between the ages of 16 and 24.

I’ve also questioned why so many people need to have their wisdom teeth removed. If they so often cause problems, why do we get them in the first place? Again, Wikipedia has an interesting answer: "Wisdom teeth are vestigial third molars. In earlier times, when tooth loss in early adulthood was common, an additional molar had the potential to fill in a gap left by the loss of another tooth. It has also been postulated that the skulls of human ancestors had larger jaws with more teeth, which were possibly used to help chew down foliage to compensate for a lack of ability to efficiently digest the cellulose that makes up a plant cell wall. As human diet changed, a smaller jaw was selected by evolution, yet the third molars, or ‘wisdom teeth,’ still commonly develop in human mouths."

So, I’m grateful to know that my son hasn’t lost any of his wisdom with the loss of his precious third molars – and that I won’t be paying for any more orthodontic work! Now that Dylan’s had his wisdom teeth removed, I’ve only got three kids to go . . . !


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