Wisdom Teeth, Intelligent Design, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Last week I got my wisdom teeth torn out of my head. I had gotten my bottom right tooth taken out 5 years ago when it got a monster cavity in it (costing me $450), so this time I only had 3 to lose.

The top two came out surprisingly easily. Within about 10 minutes they popped right out. No problem. But the impacted son-of-a-bitch on my bottom left side took a solid hour and ten minutes! during that entire time all I heard was Elton John crooning through the little boom-box speakers on the counter next to my head, and the crunch of my tooth getting first split in half, then into quarters. He then pulled out a drill and shaved off part of my jaw so that he could dig in deeper to get at the root.

I’ve spent my time since then drugged out of my mind watching the 3rd season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Angel came back from Hell!).

What gets me is why these teeth are called “wisdom” teeth. Clearly if we were designed by some almighty know-it-all he wouldn’t have (in his infinite wisdom) left us with such an idiotic and superfluous bundle of chewing-bones way back in a part of our mouths that just doesn’t have the room for them? That would be dumb! We should call them “stupid teeth”.

Of course, from an evolutionary standpoint, it makes perfect sense why we’ve been left with these monstrosities. As our species evolved from our ape-like ancestors our brains got bigger (along with our noggins), but, strangely, our poor jaws got smaller (for reasons not fully understood).

There are some theories involving the idea that our diet changed over time in such a way as to exclude the need for our 3rd molars (stupid teeth). More meat and oatmeal, less nuts and fibrous, gritty , unprocessed foods. This means that for our paleolithic ancestors, teeth were constantly worn down and would lose overall volume, allowing room for their wisdom teeth to sneak in in their late teens and twenties (or for me at 30).

In a surprisingly large number of adult humans, the wisdom teeth end up massively impacted causing gum infections, riddled with cavities, pushing the rest of the teeth out of their normal position, or some combination of the above. This leads to dentists forcing helpless young men like myself into a dentists chair for a long bout of torture followed by a few weeks of liver-destroying drug use (all without insurance I might add).

Because of our dietary lack of need for these teeth, we could call the wisdom teeth vestigial organs (or organs that are simply useless byproducts of our evolutionary past). But, I’d hesitate to say that given the evidence of dietary changes. If we simply ate differently, they would be useful indeed.

My point? Who knows. I’m all doped up. Back to the Buffy!

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16 responses to “Wisdom Teeth, Intelligent Design, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer

  1. I know it probably doesn’t fit-in with your philosophy, but a site you might bbe interested in is this one (just to get another viewpoint): http://www.answersingenesis.org/tj/v12/i3/wisdomteeth.asp

  2. That’s a pretty interesting read, Dwight. Actually, I’m not all that sure I have a philosophy when it comes to wisdom teeth. They’re teeth.

    I am, however, interested in the evolution of humans and the presence of these 3rd molars is certainly part of the equation. So, thanks!

  3. I may be a throwback. I still have (at 66) my wisdom teeth which, as far as I can tell, contribute nothing to my wisdom. But it is an interesting discussion…one you can get your teeth into. Best wishes, Dwight

  4. Evolution ususally works against, because most vairations are not advantageous. In the case of items that come in after child bearing age, evolution has no influence. The trait is already passed on before it causes death. New teeth, dont happen for a need, or an answer to a need, but because they either didnt make a difference, or didnt kill the owner before she could reproduce.

    The correct assumption is not related to eating differently, but NOT brushing or flossing. This would be what influences teeth to rot and fall out, hence making room for the wisdoms.

    I always laugh at movies depicting middle ages times, and all the actors having beautiful teeth. Granted, in the dark ages, they didnt have the sugar and starches we do to rot teeth, but, I imagine that most had bad teeth, and lots of room for the wisdoms to come in if they lived that long.

    I had 8 wisdom teeth.

    A kind of wisdom many people have is the kind when you have too many beers and have to “whiz dem” out.

  5. You’re certainly right that evolution is not teleological and any adaptation when first popping on the scene is not “for” anything. If I seem to have implied such it wasn’t intentional, and was likely a use of the wrong words, and lots of pain meds.

    If our species inherited wisdom teeth from our ancestors who had bigger jaws, and our diets (and lack of brushing) caused teeth to rot and fall out by the time the wisdom teeth came in, then there would be no disadvantage to having them, and therefore no selection pressure to weed out the genes that code for them.

    Today, we have dentists around who pull out the teeth if you have room-problems in your mouth. So, again, no selection pressure against.

    We could imagine an extreme world where people brushed and flossed and ate a diet that didn’t aggravate their teeth, but where there were no such people as dentists or doctors.

    In such a world, when your wisdom teeth come in, you may find yourself without enough room to support them. This could cause pain, cavities, infection, and even death (if we continue with the extreme case).

    If no one bred until after the wisdom teeth came in, then only those who had the least problems would survive and breed.

    But, alas, we don’t live in that world, and I’m still alive. No selection pressure to get rid of those pesky wisdom teeth.

  6. Some people are actually born without wisdom teeth, I know a few. What does that tell you about the whole situation?

  7. I just had my wisdom teeth out a week ago, and, it’s kind of funny that we were having the same thoughts, because I had this conversation with someone yesterday. He commented to me that wisdom teeth kind of create a problem for intelligent design. But doesn’t the fact that we have wisdom teeth create just as much of a problem for evolution? If wisdom teeth were detrimental and caused harmful infections or messed up people’s mouths, then wouldn’t they eventually have been naturally selected out? Why do we still have them?

    The other thought that I had is similar to your idea, that maybe wisdom teeth were actually beneficial at one point in human history, in which case it would have been intelligent for a designer to give us wisdom teeth.. (You mentioned that jaw size has decreased. I think this probably has to do with the difference in diet you mentioned, since a larger and stronger jaw is needed to eat, for instance, a diet with lots of nuts and seeds, than one with some of the softer foods, like bread, that we eat now. So it makes sense that the jaw would have gotten smaller over time.) But with a larger jaw, wisdom teeth would probably have fit nicely into the mouth and would have been helpful. Additionally, if I am not mistaken, before modern dentistry with its protective sealants and our nice toothbrushes, people’s teeth often got infected, and many people lost a lot of their teeth during their life. So, perhaps getting more teeth partway through your life might help leave a person with more teeth left after the original ones had rotted away.

    In this case, it would make sense that wisdom teeth would not be naturally selected out, since, with the rise of modern dentistry, there is also a means of removing infected or harmful teeth. Thus, the fact that we have wisdom teeth, though they are no longer beneficial and, in fact, result in painful removal, would not be affected by natural selection, since it is not usually a matter of life and death.

    So, it seems to me that wisdom teeth certainly do not speak decisively in favor of evolution. It makes more sense to me that they point to a designer.

    By the way, when I use the term evolution, I mean the belief that humans are the product of a random, unguided process of change over time. It is mostly the random, unguided part of evolution that I have a problem with. Obviously, small changes do occur over time–like the changes in jaw size, or speciezation–and natural selection happens. But these things do not create new information. Natural selection decreases the amount of information by selecting out the “bad” genes. The way that new information would have to be added is through mutations, which are generally negative, not positive, and are insufficient to account for the vast changes that would have had to occur. I am not sure if you have heard of “irreducible complexity,” but an irreducible complex organ, body part, organelle, etc., would be one that would not function without all parts working. But some of these things–like the bacterial flagellum–have so many parts that are all essential to its function, that it is unfathomable to think that all of these things could have happened randomly at once to cause these systems to evolve. So, since an undirected, random process is insufficient to explain these things, there must have been an intelligent designer behind the “origin of the species,” and we are not just the product of random chance. I believe this intelligence designer is the God of the Bible.

  8. comfortably wise

    Wisdom teeth removal, like the flu shot, are modern medical hoaxes.

    I was told about ten years ago that if my teeth werent remove they would rot out of my mouth. they would crack all my other teeth. I would get cavities because of food trapped behindthem. they were impacted.

    Ten years later, I enjoy a comfortable healthy mouse. It did hurt as they moved in (as adult teeth normally do. Now everything is great.

    I too had a scam dentist when I was younger. I haven’t had a cavity since I left that quack.

    sorry about your teeth. and your jaw. Pass on the truth.

  9. I had all my wisdom teeth out at 14, but my father still has all of his at 67 and he is having no problems at all

  10. Ya, it’s hard to wade through the hype. If mine weren’t so impacted, I may have left them in. Too late now! Unless I want bionic teeth. That would be cool.

  11. They are called wisdom teeth becuase the average person starts to get them between the ages of 17-25 the time of life that has been called the wisdom age

  12. i just had my last 2 wisdom teeth taken out and it took over an hour for the bottom one..the root was curved real bad. It took 3 dentists, double shots of Novocaine, they had to break off the crown, cut a section of my gums, and drilled it into sections until it finally came out..its been almost a week and i still feel like their in there drilling away and my face is very swollen

  13. Catrina,

    Ouch! I’m sorry to hear you’re having such a tough experience. I hope you start feeling better soon.

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