Referred to as molars or molar teeth, these are the flat teeth located at the back of the mouth. They can vary in size and shape but are the largest teeth in the mouth. Molars are rounded and used for grinding food into plainly swallowed pieces. The smaller and sharper front teeth are used for biting and tearing food. Molars are designed to sustain great amounts of force from chewing, grinding and clenching, and each molar is anchored to the jaw bone with two to four roots.
There are three types of molars. These come in after a child loses their baby teeth:
- First molars, also called the six-year molars because they are the first of the three to erupt around age six.
- Second molars, also called the twelve-year molars because they erupt around age 12.
- Third molars, or wisdom teeth, which appear between the ages of 17 and 25.
The third molars, or wisdom teeth, are vestiges from our evolutionary past when the human mouth was larger and more accommodating to additional teeth. These additional teeth were useful in chewing especially course foods, such as roots, nuts, leaves, and tough meats. This type of diet was tough on the teeth—especially without the helpful maintenance tools we enjoy today like toothbrushes, paste, and floss—so our ancestor’s teeth were subject to significant wear and loss due to tooth decay.
The Problem of Wisdom Teeth
Though it hasn’t dumped our wisdom teeth yet, evolution has, unfortunately, made some adjustments to the size of our jawbones throughout our history. The jaws of modern humans are smaller than our ancestors. This presents a range of problems when those vestigial wisdom teeth try to squeeze in.
When wisdom teeth form, they can become blocked by our other teeth, and they’re referred to as being “impacted.” If a wisdom tooth partially erupts, this can generate a hard-to-reach haven for bacteria that can lead to serious infections of the gums and surrounding tissue. Wisdom teeth may also never erupt. This carries with it problems as well, including the potential development of cysts or tumors that can do considerable damage to the jawbone and teeth if left unaddressed.