It’s a rite of passage to finally hear the dentist say, “Well, it looks like your wisdom teeth are coming in.” Not everyone needs wisdom teeth extraction, but most will need at least one extracted in their lifetime. Whether they’re just coming in or an old one has suddenly begun to ache, it’s always better to take care of them before big problems can brew.
What Are Wisdom Teeth?
Wisdom teeth are an unnecessary set of third molars at the very back of the upper and lower jaw. Coming in between the ages of 17 and 25, they’re the last teeth to join the party. In fact, they don’t begin forming in your jaw until you’re 10 years old. Records show that we’ve been calling them “teeth of wisdom” since the 17th century. Linguists believe they got their name because they erupt at the cusp of adulthood, “the age of wisdom.”
Why Do We Have Wisdom Teeth?
Wisdom teeth are probably the byproduct of our early ancestors’ diet. Having a third set of molars came in handy when we had to chew down tough roots, nuts, meats and leaves for meals. Now that our diet has softened, our wisdom teeth are just ghosts of a bygone era. Many people grow four perfect extra teeth. Others end up with partially formed teeth, only a few or even no wisdom teeth.
Do Wisdom Teeth Have To Be Removed?
It’s possible for wisdom teeth to come in without complication, but the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons reports at least 90% of people end up with at least one impacted wisdom tooth.
Common reasons for wisdom teeth extraction include:
- Not enough space: Cramped wisdom teeth can make surrounding teeth to shift, causing complications to the bite and health of other teeth.
- Full or partial impaction: Some wisdom teeth never seem to come up above the gum line. This is called impaction, and impacted teeth can become uncomfortable and infected at any time.
- Wrong angle: Wisdom teeth can come in crooked or even completely sideways, pressing against other teeth.
- Cavities: Wisdom teeth are often hard to reach with a toothbrush or could be partially covered by gum. It’s better to pull the tooth once a cavity forms than try to fill it as another cavity is likely to form.
What Happens During Extraction?
Wisdom teeth extraction is one of the most common procedures performed by oral surgeons. Teeth that have fully erupted can often be pulled just like any other tooth. The area is numbed, and the tooth is worked out of the jaw with a special tool.
Impacted teeth, teeth that should be removed before they come in or similar situations may require more in-depth surgery. These procedures are usually done under nitrous oxide, or “laughing gas,” anesthesia. General anesthesia might be administered for anxious patients or for severe issues.
How Long Does Recovery Take? How Can I Speed It Up?
Post-surgical recovery can take anywhere from two weeks to a month. For timely, more comfortable healing, it’s important to follow all post-operative instructions to the letter. Following rinsing instructions and avoiding dry socket, where the blood clot dislodges from the extraction site, are particularly important.
Make sure that you:
- Avoid using straws, vigorously swishing liquid in your mouth, or doing other sucking motions around your mouth.
- Stick to liquids for the first 24 hours and a soft foods diet for the first four to five days.
- Avoid vigorous brushing around the surgical area.
- Resist the urge to feel out the extraction site with your tongue.
- Don’t use any rinses for the first 24 hours after bleeding stops. After that, try warm salt water rinses to keep the area clean and reduce discomfort. To rinse without swishing, gently tilt your head and push the liquid around in your mouth with your tongue.
Does It Hurt?
As with any surgery, you can expect some swelling, pain and discomfort. You’ll be given appropriate pain killers and antibiotics to help minimize discomfort and prevent infection. Blood may ooze from the surgical site for the first 24 hours. If you’re having trouble stemming the bleeding immediately after surgery, put a cool, wet tea bag over the area and bite down hard for at least an hour.
Using ice packs and sleeping with your head elevated can help with pain. For most people, the pain will peak within the first 72 hours after surgery. If you experience excessive pain, bleeding, fever or signs of infection, it’s important to call your surgeon.
Millions of people undergo wisdom teeth extraction each year. If you or your child needs to join the crowd, give us a call to schedule an appointment.