Wisdom teeth are a set of four molars that usually grow into your mouth between the ages of 17-25. However, some people do not have wisdom teeth at all! Depending on the study you read, congenitally missing wisdom teeth occur in about 5% to 37% of patients. In this article, we will explore the reasons why some people do not have wisdom teeth as well as why their occurrence varies so greatly.
Why do People Not Have Wisdom Teeth?
In the past, our ancestors used their back molars (wisdom teeth) to grind down plants while foraging for food, these teeth were useful and needed. As our diets changed and became softer, we no longer needed such large and strong back molars. Additionally, as our jaws became smaller, there was simply not enough room in our mouths for these teeth. Therefore, wisdom teeth became vestigial organs, or organs that are no longer needed for survival.
Over time, wisdom teeth have become increasingly more likely to cause problems. They can grow in at awkward angles and become partially impacted. If not carefully observed and taken care of by a dentist they can cause pain, infection, and damage to nearby teeth. For these reasons, many people have their wisdom teeth removed.
Luckily, mutations have occurred over time that has resulted in some people not having wisdom teeth at all, specifically in the MSX1 gene. MSX1 is responsible for the development of many teeth, including wisdom teeth. A mutation in this gene can result in a loss of wisdom teeth. This theory is supported by the fact that congenitally missing wisdom teeth often run in families. As this gene becomes more prevalent, which can potentially increase the overall oral health of patients, it is likely that wisdom teeth will become increasingly rare through evolution.
Why the Varying Occurrence Rates?
As we mentioned, the occurrence of congenitally missing wisdom teeth can range anywhere from 5% to 37%. There are a few reasons why this number varies so greatly. One reason is that studies have used different methodologies, which can lead to different results.
Interestingly, the exact population studied also seems to play a role. This means that some ethnicities are more likely to be missing their wisdom teeth than others. For example, some studies have reported that 34.8% of Iranians are missing their wisdom teeth, an extremely high rate. In contrast, other studies have reported that only 4% of Indians are missing their wisdom teeth.
How to Tell if You Have Wisdom Teeth
If you are wondering whether or not you have wisdom teeth, the best way to find out is to visit your dentist or oral surgeon. Just because you don’t see your wisdom teeth doesn’t mean that they aren’t there. Often, wisdom teeth are impacted below the gum line and can only be seen on wisdom teeth X-rays.
If you do have wisdom teeth, a dentist will also be able to tell you whether or not they are fully/partially impacted and whether or not they need to be removed. If you’d like to read more about whether or not you should remove your wisdom teeth consider reading our article “benefits of keeping wisdom teeth“.
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No two mouths are the same, and each oral situation is unique. As such, it isn’t possible to give comprehensive advice or diagnose oral conditions based on articles alone. The best way to ensure you’re getting the best dental care possible is to visit a dentist in person for an examination and consultation.