While convalescing and experiencing the sordid experience of having new holes in my mouth, I decided to see if I could find any cross-cultural studies about the appearance and treatment of wisdom teeth in various parts of the world. I first got this idea while sitting in the chair perfectly awake with a drill buzzing in my mouth. Prior to the surgery I found a lot of disagreement about whether wisdom teeth need to be removed as often as they are. Some people think that there’s a general medical panic about them that isn’t actually based on any facts. It seems like something we could learn a lot about if we looked at how people deal with wisdom teeth around the world, and whether wisdom teeth cause a lot of problems in places where they don’t get extracted. I guess the anthropology of dentistry isn’t a big field, so I found nothing. The following article, however, mentions wisdom teeth as an evolutionary biproduct, labels humans as “cookivores” rather than omnivores or herbivores or whatever, and contains a lot of interesting hypotheses about why Americans are getting fatter.
The article lists various cultural culprits including: lots of work and lack of time, television rather than the dinner table absorbing the center of family life, the advent of technology, and the ever-present cornucopia of enriched and over-processed foods that are available to Americans. Okay, so there’s an epidemic of obesity; seems to me there’s also a parallel obsession with dieting and losing weight. I can’t help but wonder how much of this obsession has permeated the medical industry … like the possibly unnecessary removal of wisdom teeth, perhaps? After all, I’m sure that many women will tell you that the BMI – which is used to calculate whether or not someone is obese or just overweight – must be based on a man’s body as the prototype. The article says that people in industrialized societies are steadily getting fatter, but I think the issue may be more complex – after all, the “ideal” body type that models represented in the old days was more buxom and has only recently dwindled to anemic status. Maybe part of the equation has to do with people watching TV, seeing a model rejoicing over a Coca-Cola, and thinking, “Real people don’t look like that.” Does Uma Thurman make you think of doing push-ups?