Teeth are an important indicator of the health and habits of a person. From the enamel stains of a coffee lover to dental fillings from cavities, we can glimpse into aspects of someone's lived experience. As the hardest tissue within the human body, our teeth often outlast our own lifespan and their hardiness has made them more likely to be preserved in the fossil record of our human ancestors. As a result, teeth are an extremely valuable material for studying the evolutionary history of modern humans, and through analyzing the fossilized teeth of our ancestors we can get a sense of what kinds of food they ate, how their teeth developed, and the prevalence of dental disease in their populations.
The adult human mouth has 32 teeth including incisors, canines, premolars, and molars. Our third molars, also called "wisdom" teeth, not only are our last set of teeth to erupt but are also very susceptible to impaction, a disorder where the tooth does not fully erupt from the gum. Impacted third molars have health implications such as infection and gum disease, yet the surgical removal of wisdom teeth has its own dangers and complications. Interestingly, the problem of third-molar impaction is a modern one. In fact, third-molar impaction is ten times more common in people who eat an Industrial Age diet compared to a diet consistent with foraging.