When Did Removal of Wisdom Teeth Begin?

Blonde teenage girl that needs her wisdom teeth removed smiles with her eyes closed while in the woods

Wisdom teeth are the third set of molars that erupt behind the two sets of molars, typically in a person’s late teens or early twenties. These teeth often are misaligned or impacted (stuck below the gumline) and require removal to prevent potential dental health problems, such as overcrowding, decay, gum disease, infection, and damage to neighboring teeth. For these reasons, surgical removal or extraction of wisdom teeth is common and routine. But has it always been that way?

Why Wisdom Teeth Removal Was Previously Unpopular

Prior to the introduction of Novocaine in 1902, wisdom teeth were probably rarely, if ever, removed as a preventive measure. Patients who experienced problems or infection with their wisdom teeth either had to live with the pain or endure the agonizing procedure of getting them dug out without sedation and anesthesia. This would have been an intimidating procedure for anyone due to the extreme pain, but it was made worse that it was difficult to find a qualified doctor. Moreover, they lacked the perks of modern surgical dentistry many of us take for granted, such as specialized tools, proper lighting, magnification, and antibiotics. Unfortunately, many people likely died from wisdom tooth infections. But by the 1950s, the advent of antibiotics dramatically reduced infection-related deaths.

The Need for Wisdom Teeth By Early Humans

Considering how much trouble wisdom teeth often cause, it’s reasonable to wonder we even have them in the first place! One theory is that our early ancestors wore out their teeth by early adulthood and needed a third set of molars for continued function. Early humans ate a diet of hard-to-chew foods like roots and raw meat. Though there is evidence of “chew sticks” being used anciently to clean teeth, a lack of oral hygiene inevitably would have led to decayed and missing teeth. So an extra pair that emerged later in life would have come in handy!

The Evolution of Smaller Jaws

Human jaws eventually grew smaller as society transitioned to a more agriculturally-based food supply of softer, cooked foods and the need for extra teeth declined. Some people never develop wisdom teeth, others only have one or two, and many of us have all four! And most patients just don’t have enough room for any number of these third molars, thus they commonly need to be removed.

Do You Need Your Wisdom Teeth Removed?

If you still have any or all of your wisdom teeth, don’t wait until they become problematic to have them examined. Here at Rigby Advanced Dental, we can not only determine whether you’d benefit from having your wisdom teeth removed, but we can perform the procedure in-house so you don’t need to be referred out. Contact us today to schedule an appointment!

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