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Evolution of Teeth
Human jaws and teeth and have changed and shrunk dramatically over the past 2.5 to 5 million years. This decrease results from improved cutting, pounding and grinding tools, as well as from the introduction of fire as a tool in cooking. Mouths and teeth were also previously used for holding tools, and catching and dismembering prey - particularly when ancestors of man walked around on all fours.
Hominin skulls - which include humans, and two classes of chimpanzees - appear to resemble ape skulls more so than modern humans skulls in their early forms. Humans typically have small jaws and a large braincase, whereas great apes have the inverse. The canine teeth of apes are also significantly larger than other teeth, and project noticeably into the mouth. Modern human canine teeth, on the other hand, are not obtrusively large relative to other teeth. As modern humans emerged from our predecessors, jaws and teeth shrunk, canines stopped protruding, and brains began taking up relatively larger amounts of space.
Slowed tooth growth - the phenomenon whereby it takes humans until aged 18 or 20 to reach full growth, emerged in humans only 100,000 years ago. Chimpanzees and gorillas, by contrast, have a full set of adult teeth by the age of 11 or 12. Even recent ancestors homo erectus and homo ergaster display much faster growth that homo sapiens, according to recent research at the University College London. This prolonged development of teeth is consistent with the prolonged childhood development of modern humans.
Recent research has revealed that our modern reliance on cutlery and consumption of easy-to-chew and often mushy foods has actually resulted in many of our malocclusion problems today. Perfectly straight teeth are rare without orthodontic work, there is often no room for wisdom teeth, or 3rd molars in the jaw, and the prevalence of gum disease continues to increase. With cooked and cut food, we no longer need the large teeth and jaws of our ancestors, thus our jaw size has decreased, causing this host of dental problems.
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