Crooked teeth are a very common occurrence in our modern world. Nine out of ten people there is at least some inequality going on in their mouths. Finished 4 million people wear braces in the United States only. I don’t know about you, but I’m still feeling total sticker shock from my own teeth-straightening journey. (I call it “traveling” so it’s a little more unique and less damaging.)
However, this is not something our ancestors faced. Like…to everyone. How did no one experience the normal modern-day puzzle in a time when we had less technological advancement?
As it turns out, technology may be the culprit, and a video from Ted-Ed explains everything.
The prevailing theory in the scientific community is that millions of years ago, when humans were hunter-gatherers, their teeth had to work extra hard to grind seeds, fruit, meat, etc., and make it dissolves.
When people started incorporating tools, food spoiled before it even entered the mouth. It became finer and easier to chew with the introduction of agriculture, followed by the innovations of the Industrial Revolution.
In a relatively short period of time (12,000 years), teeth were basically stripped of most of their “crushing duties.” And while teeth were initially able to adapt to the gradual evolution of culinary changes, things changed too quickly to keep up. Over time, jaws shrink faster than our teeth, leading to crowding and some…weird tooth repair.
This also helps explain why wisdom teeth are so painful. By the time these last molars come out, there is no more room in the mouth for them. This is why many people need to have them surgically removed to avoid discomfort or infection.
This theory was tested in animals such as spider monkeys and lyrax, which were given naturally hard food and artificially softened food. Sure enough, critters with a softer diet also developed narrower jaws, and more crooked teeth.
Bottom line: this issue has more to do with lifestyle than anything genetic. That’s why different people in different parts of the world don’t deal with tooth crowding, and even have room for wisdom teeth. Knowing this may not stop us from eating more mushy foods—it certainly won’t stop warm gooey cookies anytime soon, perfect smiles and cavity-free be damned—but it sure does. that it is something to chew on.
You can watch the full video, based on a lesson by a dental anthropologist Mr. Richard Scott, below:
Why do we have crooked teeth while our ancestors didn’t? – Mr. Richard Scott