Quote: Darwin on wisdom teeth

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Darwin, in The Descent of Man, volume 1, pp. 26-27:

It appears as if the posterior molar or wisdom-teeth were tending to become rudimentary in the more civilised races of man. These teeth are rather smaller than the other molars, as is likewise the case with the corresponding teeth in the chimpanzee and orang; and they have only two separate fangs. They do not cut through the gums till about the seventeenth year, and I am assured by dentists that they are much more liable to decay, and are earlier lost, than the other teeth. It is also remarkable that they are much more liable to vary both in structure and in the period of their development than the other teeth. In the Melanian races, on the other hand, the wisdom-teeth are usually furnished with three separate fangs, and are generally sound: they also differ from the other molars in size less than in the Caucasian races. Prof. Schaaffhausen accounts for this difference between the races by "the posterior dental portion of the jaw being always shortened" in those that are civilised, and this shortening may, I presume, be safely attributed to civilised men habitually feeding on soft, cooked food, and thus using their jaws less. I am informed by Mr. Brace that it is becoming quite a common practice in the United States to remove some of the molar teeth of children, as the jaw does not grow large enough for the perfect development of the normal number.

This “Mr. Brace” was Charles Loring Brace, great-grandfather of the anthropologist of the same name who became well-known for studying dental reduction.