Wisdom teeth become impacted because there is no room in the dentition for them to emerge.
Reasons a Tooth May Become Impacted
There are a variety of reasons that there is no room for an impacted tooth to emerge. It could be as simple as a jaw that is too small to accommodate all the teeth in the dentition.
An impacted tooth could be caused by misbehaving surrounding teeth. The adult dentition erupts over the course of several years, and during that time, a variety of factors can influence the eruption pattern. As an example, a missing tooth can cause an adjacent tooth to erupt at an angle toward the space left by the missing tooth. There are many factors that can cause a tooth to emerge askew and become displaced causing other teeth to become impacted as a result.
Orthodontia is much more common today and may be partially responsible for impacted wisdom teeth as the procedure produces a fuller dental arch, which often doesn’t accommodate the wisdom teeth.
Wisdom teeth are the most common to become impacted due to their location and the fact that they are last in line to emerge.
Evolution and Wisdom Teeth…an Interesting Theory
Anthropologists theorize that wisdom teeth were simply a comfortable part of the dentition of early man who had a much larger jaw. More space to fill, more teeth necessary.
Even as evolution saw smaller and smaller jaws wisdom teeth were likely a necessity for early man due to the need to replace missing teeth through poor diets and poor dental hygiene.
Today’s healthier diets, public awareness of proper dental hygiene, and advanced techniques in the field of dentistry, allow many of us to keep our teeth for a lifetime leaving no room for the superfluous wisdom teeth.
The most convincing examination of the evolution of wisdom teeth suggests that our modern diet of softer foods does not provide the workout to ensure proper relationship in the mouth.
Evolutionary biologists now classify wisdom teeth as vestigial organs just like the appendix and speculate that evolution may ultimately eliminate them completely.
“Impacted tooth: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia.” National Library of Medicine – National Institutes of Health. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Apr. 2011. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001057.htm.
Bergman, Jerry . “Are wisdom teeth (third molars) vestiges of human evolution.” CEN Technical Journal 12.3 (1998): 297-304. Print.
“Wisdom Teeth | AAOMS.org.” American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (AAOMS). N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Apr. 2011. http://www.aaoms.org/wisdom