Why Do Humans Have Shrinking Jaws?

“Two’s company, three’s a crowd.” That sums up the problem with wisdom teeth, often called the third molars. In most cases, when these teeth come through the gum line, there isn’t enough space for them to sit properly or comfortably in the mouth.

In many cases, when there isn’t room for wisdom teeth, they become impacted or stuck in your jawbone. This can cause pain and discomfort, as well as lead to other problems, including infection.

But why do we even have wisdom teeth if they need to be removed more often than not?

The answer is that our ancestors had bigger jaws than we do now, which gave wisdom teeth enough space in the jaw and mouth. However, over time, our jaws got smaller, so wisdom teeth don’t fit anymore. They’re nearly vestigial structures, like the appendix or spleen. This means they are no longer needed but still exist.

Why Did Jaws Get Smaller?

Jaw size has been shrinking since humans first evolved millions of years ago. The reason for this is unclear, but scientists think it could be due to changes in diet. For example, early hominids ate mostly meat, while later ones began eating plants, which caused changes in jaw size.

This change in diet also led to changes in tooth structure. Early hominids had longer, sharper teeth, which were better at cutting meat. Later hominids developed shorter, flatter teeth, which were better suited to grinding plant matter.

As time progressed and we moved to softer foods (for example, the casseroles, mac and cheese, and other convenience foods we eat today), jaw size got even smaller — which means the space for wisdom teeth got smaller, too.

Environmental factors like air pollution and stress levels also affect jaw growth.

Jaws Are Still Shrinking

Today, jaws are still getting smaller and smaller. As a result, the amount of space available for wisdom teeth continues to shrink.

But that’s not the only problem related to smaller, shrinking jaws.

When jaws do not reach their fullest potential of growth, facial development can be affected. Jaw size affects how much space is available for the muscles that move the face. If the jaw is small, the muscles that move the jaw are underdeveloped, which can lead to an imbalance between the two sides of the face.

When the jaws do not grow as intended, the mid-face can also be affected. The mid-face is the part of the face comprising the area under the eyes, the cheeks and the upper jaw. When the jaw is small, the mid-face cannot develop normally. It can look flat, narrow or misshapen.

Additionally, when the jaws do not grow as intended, it can cause issues with the upper airway. The upper airway is the passageway from the nose to the throat. When the jaws are small, the upper airway may be narrower, making breathing difficult.

This often leads to issues such as the sleep breathing disorder, obstructive sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the soft tissue in the back of the throat collapses during sleep, blocking the airway. This causes snoring and interrupted breathing throughout the night.

Sleep apnea and other sleep breathing disorders caused by undersized jaws can contribute to increased risks to your health, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, depression, anxiety, and high blood pressure.

Can We Overcome Shrinking Jaws?

While shrinking jaws are an endemic problem, you can do something about it. Dentistry has developed treatments to combat shrinking jaws and improve overall health with facial remodeling dentistry.

Facial remodeling dentistry uses specialized orthodontics, myofuctional therapy, and other devices to treat problems with jaw growth. Dentists use these tools to help expand undersized jaws and correct misalignments of the jawbones and teeth. They also help to prevent future problems by correcting any existing malocclusions (misalignment of the teeth).

Orthodontic treatment can be used to treat conditions such as:

  • Crossbite (teeth positioned incorrectly on either side of the mouth)
  • Underbites (underdevelopment of one lower jawbone)
  • Overshoot (overgrowth of one lower jawbone causing the jaw to protrude forward)
  • Open bites (an overgrown gap between the front teeth)
  • Tooth crowding (too many teeth in close proximity)
  • Tooth spacing (distance between each tooth)

Can Facial Remodeling Dentistry Help Prevent Wisdom Teeth Extraction?

There’s nothing definitive that says that facial remodeling dentistry treatments will 100 percent prevent you or your child from having their wisdom teeth removed, but by allowing the jaw to reach its fullest potential, you could see enough space for wisdom teeth to come in without issue.

While not having to have your wisdom teeth extracted is a benefit, the other benefits of facial remodeling dentistry are the most important.

Facial remodeling treatments and tools not only provide perfect alignment of the teeth but also treats jaw and facial growth disorders without requiring jaw surgery. It improves smiles and facial aesthetics. It helps to reduce the risk of developing sleep apnea and other sleep-related disorders. And it reduces the chances of needing additional dental work later in life.

How Can I Tell If My Jaw Is Small?

If you’re wondering if your jaw is too small, there are some telltale signs. You may notice that your chin appears smaller than normal. Your lips may appear thinner than other people’s. Or your cheeks may seem more prominent than they should be. These are all symptoms of a small jaw.

If you think your jaw might be too small, talk to us. Schedule a consultation today to discuss your treatment options.