Wisdom teeth are the upper and lower third molars, located at the very back of the mouth. They are called wisdom teeth because usually they come in when a person is between 17 and 21 years or older, old enough to have gained some wisdom. Wisdom teeth that are healthy and properly positioned do not cause problems.
What causes problems with wisdom teeth?
Wisdom teeth may break partway through your gums, causing a flap of gum tissue to grow over them where food can become trapped and a gum infection can develop. Wisdom teeth can also come in crooked or facing the wrong direction. Or, if your jaw is not large enough to give them room, they may become impacted and unable to break through your gums. You may have trouble properly cleaning around wisdom teeth because they are so far in the back of your mouth and may be crowded.
What are the symptoms of wisdom tooth problems?
Wisdom teeth often cause no symptoms. Symptoms that may mean your wisdom teeth need to be removed include:
- Pain or jaw stiffness near an impacted tooth.
- Pain or irritation from a tooth coming in at an awkward angle and rubbing against your cheek, tongue, or top or bottom of the mouth.
- An infected swelling in the flap of gum tissue that has formed on top of an impacted tooth that has partially broken through the gum.
- Crowding of other teeth.
- Tooth decay or gum disease if there’s not enough room to properly care for the wisdom tooth and surrounding teeth.
Your dentist will examine your teeth and gums for signs of a wisdom tooth coming through your gum or crowding other teeth. You will have X-rays to find out whether your wisdom teeth are causing problems now or are likely to cause problems in the future.
Wisdom Tooth Extraction
Before removing a wisdom tooth, your dentist will give you a local anesthetic to numb the area where the tooth will be removed.
To remove the wisdom tooth, your dentist will open up the gum tissue over the tooth and take out any bone that is covering the tooth. He or she will separate the tissue connecting the tooth to the bone and then remove the tooth. Sometimes the dentist will cut the tooth into smaller pieces to make it easier to remove.
After the tooth is removed, you may need stitches. Some stitches dissolve over time and some have to be removed after a few days. Your dentist will tell you whether your stitches need to be removed. A folded cotton gauze pad placed over the wound will help stop the bleeding.
WHAT TO EXPECT AFTER SURGERY
In most cases, the recovery period lasts only a few days. Take painkillers as prescribed by your dentist. The following tips will help speed your recovery:
- Bite gently on the gauze pad periodically, and change pads as they become soaked with blood.
- Call your dentist or oral surgeon if you still have bleeding 24 hours after your surgery.
- While your mouth is numb, be careful not to bite the inside of your cheek or lip, or your tongue.
- Do not lie flat. This may prolong bleeding. Prop up your head with pillows.
- Try using an ice pack on the outside of your cheek for the first 24 hours. You can use moist heat-such as a washcloth soaked in warm water and wrung out-for the following 2 or 3 days.
- Relax after surgery. Physical activity may increase bleeding.
- Eat soft foods, such as gelatin, pudding, or a thin soup. Gradually add solid foods to your diet as healing progresses.
- Do not use a straw for the first few days. Sucking on a straw can loosen the blood clot and delay healing.
- After the first day, gently rinse your mouth with warm salt water several times a day to reduce swelling and relieve pain.
- Do not smoke for at least 24 hours after your surgery. The sucking motion can loosen the clot and delay healing. In addition, smoking decreases the blood supply and can bring germs and contaminants to the surgery area.
- Avoid rubbing the area with your tongue or touching it with your fingers.
- Continue to brush your teeth and tongue carefully.
- Your dentist will remove the stitches after a few days, if needed.
After a wisdom tooth is removed, you may experience:
- Pain and swelling in your gums and tooth socket where the tooth was removed.
- Bleeding that won’t stop for about 24 hours.
- Difficulty with or pain from opening your jaw (trismus).
- Slow-healing gums.
- Damage to existing dental work, such as crowns or bridges, or to roots of a nearby tooth.
- A painful inflammation called dry socket, which happens if the protective blood clot is lost too soon.
- Numbness in your mouth and lips after the local anesthetic wears off, due to injury or inflammation of nerves in the jaw.
Rare side effects, including:
- Numbness in the mouth or lips that does not go away.
- A fractured jaw if the tooth was firmly attached to the jaw bone.
- An opening into the sinus cavity when a wisdom tooth is removed from the upper jaw.
Top 10 reasons to remove wisdom teeth:
- Because there is limited space for wisdom teeth to erupt and because the surrounding gums are difficult to keep clean. Infection and inflammation are therefore common even when there are no apparent symptoms.
- Even when wisdom teeth erupt through the gum tissues, they rarely provide any meaningful function and are always difficult to keep clean.
- Wisdom teeth have high risk of getting cavities on them because they are very hard to clean while brushing and flossing.
- In some cases, impacted wisdom teeth develop cysts, and rarely tumours. Removal of such lesions may require extensive procedures to repair and restore jaw function and appearance.
- With age, the chance for complications related to the removal of wisdom teeth increases.
- Gum disease and inflammation associated with wisdom teeth may lead to receding gum tissues, deterioration of the jawbone and tooth loss.
- Wisdom teeth may contribute to crowding of nearby teeth.
- Even wisdom teeth that seem to be problem-free remain a breeding ground for oral infection and inflammation. Research supports the concept that such inflammation may enter the bloodstream and contribute to the development and/or progression of a variety of diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease and stroke.
- Once it has been determined that a wisdom tooth will not successfully erupt into your mouth and be maintained in a healthy state, early extraction of wisdom teeth is associated with faster and easier recovery.
- The number one reason for removing wisdom teeth: Peace of mind!