Unlike most teeth, which erupt in childhood, “wisdom teeth” (also known as “third molars”) generally appear between the ages of 17 and 25. Linguists believe these teeth received the nickname of “wisdom teeth” because they appear later in life than other teeth — at an age when a person has matured into a young adult.

So why do we have wisdom teeth? Anthropologists point to our ancient ancestors for the explanation.

Ancient civilizations had very different diets than we do today. Instead of driving to the grocery store, our early ancestors hunted and gathered whatever food they came across in nature.

Snacking on raw foods such as leaves, roots, nuts and meats was hard on their teeth! In those days, dental hygiene was poor, and tooth loss was common.

By the time a person had reached his or her 20s, it was not unusual to have lost a tooth or two to decay. Without enough teeth, ancient man would not have been able to chew the foods he or she found and risked starvation.

Anthropologists believe that in order to survive, early humans developed wisdom teeth as a way to make chewing easier, even if they were missing other teeth.

Luckily, our present-day diet, lifestyle and access to dental care have made survival much easier on modern man — and on our teeth! This means wisdom teeth are no longer considered necessary to our survival.

As a result, evolutionary biologists now classify wisdom teeth as “vestigial organs,” which means they are no longer considered to have a functional purpose.

In fact, biology may agree. Researchers have found that 35 percent of the modern population never develops wisdom teeth at all, suggesting that over time they will disappear completely.

 

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    • We also liked the “She lives in a tree!” part of the video, Chey! That’s a pretty smart little girl! Thanks so much for visiting Wonderopolis and commenting today! :-)

  1. It’s funny how she gets 25 cents for one tooth and 20 cents for two teeth! I left a comment on the Wonderopolis on freckles, and thank you for getting back so quickly. I love Wonderopolis because it has interesting topics.

    • We’re so excited to get another comment from you today, Kirsten! Thank you for sharing what you liked about this Wonder and about Wonderopolis! You are a GREAT Wonder Friend! :-)

  2. One of our class’s vocabulary words this week is wisdom, and we were wondering how wisdom teeth got their name. Now we know the answer! Thank you, Wonderopolis!

    • We’re SO glad you visited this Wonder of the Day® about wisdom teeth, Mrs. Guin’s Second Grade! It makes us super happy to hear that you learned something new together in Wonderopolis! :-)

  3. My dad once had to get his wisdom teeth taken out. Normally, there are four teeth taken out, but my dad only had three teeth out. The fourth wisdom tooth is still stuck in his mouth right now!

    • That’s really interesting that your dad only got three of his wisdom teeth taken out, Julie! Maybe those were the only three that were giving him trouble! The fourth tooth must have decided to be nice and just be a tooth! :-)

  4. I saw a show on TV, it’s called Victorious. And Trina (Daniella Monet) got her wisdom teeth taken out. She said it hurts. Her sister, Tori (Victoria Justice) had to take care of her while their parents were out somewhere.

    • Hey there, Jenna! We’re glad you made a connection between our dental Wonder and the TV show, Victorious! Tori sounds like a great sister– Trina is a lucky duck! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Why do you have wisdom teeth?
  • Do you really need wisdom teeth?
  • How can you make your own tooth pillow?

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Wonder-32-Wisdom-Teeth2Vimeo Video

Try It Out

Searching for the perfect place to leave lost teeth for tooth fairy pickup? Create your very own tooth pillow to make sure she doesn’t overlook your next lost tooth!

Follow the instructions on the mmmcrafts website to make sure you’re prepared the next time one of your teeth leaves home. You can even personalize your pillow — the website offers steps for ballerinas and tooth officers.

Get creative and make a pillow that will make the tooth fairy remember you!

 

Still Wondering

Check out this carnival mask from Smithsonian’s History Explorer that shows off one amusing smile.

 

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