Understanding Wisdom Teeth Removal

woman smilingWith a name like wisdom teeth, it seems like you’d want to hold on to them! Unfortunately, these teeth can cause a variety of problems in your mouth if they don’t come in correctly.

What Are Wisdom Teeth?

These are the last molars to come into your mouth; they usually show up between the ages of 17 and 21. The American Dental Association explains, “Historically, these teeth have been called wisdom teeth because they come through at a more mature age.” Some people don’t have them (or they never erupt in the mouth), and some people are lucky enough to have them come in correctly, in which case they act like the rest of your molars to assist in chewing.

When Do Wisdom Teeth Cause Problems?

Basically, if there’s not enough room in your mouth, wisdom teeth can’t come in correctly. Instead, they push and crowd your other teeth as they attempt to erupt. Instead of coming straight up, they might push toward your teeth or the back of your mouth. The ADA outlines a few issues that may occur if your wisdom teeth are crooked or not fully erupted:

  • Food can get trapped if the wisdom teeth aren’t in their ideal position, which can lead to cavities.
  • It can be hard to floss between your wisdom teeth, giving bacteria another opportunity to grow.
  • You could experience pain and swelling if bacteria finds its way into the space between your gums and wisdom teeth.
  • Incorrectly positioned wisdom teeth may damage the nearby teeth or crowd the entire mouth.
  • An impacted wisdom tooth can form a cyst that damages nearby roots or even your bone.

If you’re experiencing pain, infection, gum disease, decay in a partially erupted tooth, or other issues as a result of the position of your wisdom teeth, your dentist may recommend getting them removed. In some cases, a dentist may suggest removing them even if they’re not currently causing problems. They may never give you trouble, or they may become problematic later in life.

Wisdom Teeth Extraction

Mayo Clinic explains that wisdom teeth extraction is usually an outpatient procedure. If the teeth are impacted, an oral surgeon will likely perform the surgery. The area will be made numb, and you may be sedated.

From there, a small incision will expose the tooth. If there is any bone blocking the root, that will be removed. The tooth may be removed in pieces if it can’t be easily extracted whole, and the space is carefully cleaned to make sure no fragments remain. In some cases, the wound is stitched closed.

Usually, there are no serious complications from wisdom teeth extraction. Some people experience dry socket, a painful condition involving “exposure of bone when the post-surgical blood clot is lost from the site of the surgical wound.” It’s also possible for the wound to become infected.

However, in most cases, recovering from wisdom teeth extraction is merely a matter of managing discomfort and using gauze over the wounds to stop any bleeding. Your dentist may prescribe a pain medication or you can use an over-the-counter alternative.

Here are some other tips from Mayo Clinic for recovering from the extraction:

  • Follow your dentist’s specific guidelines.
  • Eat soft foods.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Avoid drinking through a straw, as doing so can increase your risk of dry socket.
  • Don’t brush your teeth for 24 hours, and then brush very gently, avoiding the wound.
  • Avoid alcohol and tobacco.
  • Use an ice pack to reduce swelling.
  • Avoid vigorous activity that could cause dry socket.

In most cases, you won’t need a follow-up appointment with your dentist or oral surgeon unless you need to have stitches removed (many simply dissolve) or if you experience a fever, excessive bleeding, numbness, or severe pain.

Wisdom teeth extraction is a common procedure in the United States. Its relative simplicity makes it a logical choice to relieve (and prevent) any issues caused by crooked or impacted wisdom teeth. If you’re concerned about your wisdom teeth, contact us to schedule an appointment. We’ll take a look at your x-rays and discuss the progress of your teeth to decide if wisdom teeth removal is the right choice for you.

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