Wisdom teeth, or third molars, got their name because they arrive when you are older and wiser when you get them. Contrary to your other adult teeth, which you typically start to get around age six, wisdom teeth wait to erupt until you are anywhere between 17 and 25 years old. Not everyone actually gets wisdom teeth, but if you do, you may need to have them removed. Wisdom teeth are often impacted or crowd your other teeth, resulting in pain and serious dental problems. Many times, they are removed as a part of preventative care. If you do have to get them extracted, don’t worry; the surgery is routine, and you will be back to normal within a week.
Do I Need to Have My Wisdom Teeth Removed?
While removing wisdom teeth is a common surgery, it’s not always necessary. If your teeth erupt with no problems, you can keep them. Many times, though, wisdom teeth need to be removed to protect your oral health.
If you encounter any of the following symptoms, there’s a good chance your wisdom teeth need to come out:
- Jaw pain and swelling, often accompanied by headaches
- Tender, red, and swollen gums that may be painful or bleed easily
- Bad breath
- A weird taste in your mouth
Before you experience any symptoms, your dentist may tell you that your wisdom teeth are causing – or are going to cause – problems in your mouth.
During a routine check-up, your dentist may find:
- There isn’t enough room in your mouth for the teeth
- They aren’t coming in straight
- A cyst has formed around one of the teeth
What Happens if I Don’t Remove My Wisdom Teeth?
An average jaw has enough space to hold 28 teeth. If you get four wisdom teeth, that means that you need room for 32 teeth on your jaw. If you have had orthodontic work in the past, there is probably even less room in your mouth to fit the new teeth. Due to the lack of space, wisdom teeth typically either become impacted, where they cannot fully erupt, or they become misaligned.
Impaction and misalignment can lead to:
- Infection – When a tooth is unable to fully erupt, it can cause an infection called pericoronitis. Pericoronitis occurs when bacteria from food and plaque get trapped in between your gums and the impacted tooth, inflaming it and potentially causing pain, swelling, and fever. If left untreated, the infection can spread and lead to life-threatening conditions like Ludwig’s angina and sepsis.
- Shifting of your other teeth – If your wisdom teeth are misaligned or coming in sideways, they can cause your other teeth to move. This shifting can change your bite alignment, which can, in turn, lead to a variety of other dental problems like jaw pain, tooth sensitivity, and even gum disease.
- Tumors – Sometimes, a sac filled with fluid will form next to a wisdom tooth, creating a cyst. If left untreated, the cyst can cause the roots of the tooth – and even bone – to deteriorate. These cysts can also turn into tumors that can only be removed via surgery.
What is the Extraction Procedure Like for Wisdom Teeth?
If you and your dentist determine that your wisdom teeth need to be extracted for preventative measures or due to problematic symptoms, then it is best to prepare yourself for the procedure.
Depending on your situation, a qualified oral surgeon will either remove all of your wisdom teeth at once or just a couple at a time. For your comfort, you will receive general or local anesthesia during the procedure. If your surgeon recommends general anesthesia, make sure you have someone to drive you home after the surgery because you will be groggy and somewhat unaware of your surroundings.
The entire surgery can last as little as one hour or as many as several hours, depending on the level of tooth impaction. Also keep in mind that your surgeon may recommend that you avoid taking certain medications prior to your surgery, and it is important to heed those precautions.
Are There any Recovery Tips for after My Wisdom Teeth are Removed?
Recovering from wisdom tooth extraction can take anywhere from three or four days to one whole week. You will likely experience pain, swelling, and some minor bleeding as your wounds heal.
To speed recovery, you should:
- Avoid solid foods, caffeine, alcohol, and hot beverages.
- Be sensitive to your blood clots. Never use a straw while you are recovering, and avoid spitting and rinsing, at least for 24 hours.
- Use ice. Icing your jaw will help with pain and swelling.
- Stay away from brushing your teeth and flossing at least during the first 24 hours. After that, brush gently and rinse with warm salt water to help prevent infection.
- Relax. Take off from work or school so that you have time to sleep and heal.
- Take medicine for the pain. There’s no point in suffering; utilize the prescription pain killers or over-the-counter pain medications that your surgeon recommends.
When in Doubt, Consult Your Dentist
If you have any concerns regarding your wisdom teeth, talk to your dentist. He or she can help you decide whether or not your wisdom teeth need to be extracted, and when. If you think that your wisdom teeth are causing you problems, contact your dentist immediately. Wisdom teeth can quickly impact your oral – and overall – health. And if surgery is in your future, there’s nothing to fear. In just a few hours, your surgeon will have your dental health back on track.