In a book by an anthropologist at Ohio State, it is claimed that (1) third molar impactions dectupled after the Industrial Revolution, and (2) this was due to a new abundance of soft, processed food.

Is (1) accurate (and not a matter of increased dental care or changing views on impaction), and if so, is (2) the reasonably established cause? I've heard tell that surgical practice surrounding wisdom teeth is a contested topic, and am curious if this anthropological factoid is part of the mess.

  • for those who ponder what molar impaction means: "teeth that fail to erupt into normal position but remain fully or partially embedded and covered by jawbone or gum tissue". Aug 27, 2021 at 9:03
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    @Fizz I think you're right, a careful reading of her words in the article doesn't implicate sugar. I was primed to read it that way by the juxtaposition, and also where I first found the claim/article on Wiki (wisdom tooth page) describing it as such. I'll change the wording.
    – Feryll
    Aug 27, 2021 at 17:43
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    By the way, the more trodden theory is that as our jaws got smaller because we ate softer foods, there was less room for 3rd molars, hence more impactions. But the evolutionary timescale usually posited is not anywhere near that short... I suspect the 10-fold more detections since the industrial revolution (if true) may have more to do with how this stuff is measured/detected, but can't say for sure. Aug 27, 2021 at 18:01
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    @Fizz bone size and shape is not entirely dictated by genetics. For example, the mastoid process arises because of mechanical forces ("The mastoid process is absent or rudimentary in the neonatal skull. It forms postnatally as the sternocleidomastoid muscle develops and pulls on the bone. It usually finishes structural development by 2 years old"). It's not difficult to imagine that changes in the mechanical forces to which children's jaws are exposed can cause changes in their development.
    – phoog
    Sep 5, 2021 at 3:57
  • Related, on SE: history.stackexchange.com/q/62832/26786 Oct 3, 2021 at 9:19


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