Wisdom Teeth

What are wisdom teeth?

Wisdom teeth are the third and final set of molars. These are last teeth to erupt. They usually appear between the ages of 17 and 25. Adults usually get 4 wisdom teeth, although some people may not develop a full set of wisdom teeth. Still others may not develop any at all.

Why should I be concerned with wisdom teeth?

Wisdom teeth can be a problem if they:

  • Become infected
  • Become impacted
  • Threaten the alignment of existing teeth

What is an impacted wisdom tooth?

An impacted wisdom tooth is a wisdom tooth that fails to fully pass through the gums because it is prevented by the overlying gum, bone or another tooth. Impacted wisdom teeth are very common and often are painless. However, they may cause problems by altering the alignment of the teeth. Also, an impacted tooth traps food, plaque and other debris in the soft tissue around it, leading to inflammation and tenderness of the gums and unpleasant mouth odor. This is called pericoronitis.

What are the symptoms of impacted wisdom teeth?

Symptoms may include any of the following:

  • Bad breath
  • Difficulty opening the mouth (occasionally)
  • Pain or tenderness of the gums (gingiva) or jaw bone
  • Prolonged headache or jaw ache
  • Redness and swelling of the gums around the impacted tooth
  • Swollen lymph nodes of the neck (occasionally)
  • Unpleasant taste when biting down on or near the area
  • Visible gap where a tooth did not emerge

What can I expect?

Since it is impossible to remove the teeth without feeling pain, your dentist will give you a local anesthetic to numb the area where the teeth will be removed. A stronger anesthetic can be used if the patient has a low tolerance for pain or if several teeth need to be removed. Additionally, some people may opt to have general anesthesia. This prevents pain in the whole body and during the procedure, you will be sleeping the whole time.

When the area is numb enough, the dentist will proceed to removing the teeth. Stitches may be necessary in some cases to help your gums heal. Additionally, the removed teeth may be replaced with implants, dentures or a bridge.

Lastly, your dentist may prescribe you painkillers and antibiotics.

What should I do after the extractions?

Your dentist will teach you the important after-care instructions following a tooth extraction. Among these instructions will be:

  • Bite down gently on the cotton gauze pad placed over the wound to help stop the bleeding
  • Take painkillers and antibiotics
  • Rinse your mouth gently with warm saltwater several times a day to reduce swelling and relieve pain
  • Apply ice pack over the area
  • Change gauze pads regularly
  • Get adequate rest
  • Minimize exertion; this may cause bleeding
  • Avoid sucking actions, including drinking through a straw
  • Avoid smoking
  • Eat soft foods
  • Avoid carbonated drinks
  • Raise your head when lying down
  • Avoid touching or rubbing the area with your tongue
  • Brush teeth gently around the affected area

Possible complications

If not treated, impacted wisdom teeth may cause:

  • Abscess of the tooth or gums
  • Chronic discomfort or pain
  • Infection
  • Malocclusion