Wondering whether you should have your wisdom teeth pulled - and when to leave them alone? Our Edmonton dentists discuss why wisdom teeth removal is often necessary, common problems, the procedure itself and more.
What are wisdom teeth?
Most adults will develop a third set of molars in the very back of their mouth in their late teen to early adult years.
A common question we receive from patients is, "When do wisdom teeth grow in?"
The answer for most people will be between the ages of 17 and 21. While wisdom teeth won't make you smarter, we use this name for them since they usually come in when you're older.
You'll get two on top and two on bottom as part of your complete set of 32 adult teeth. The wisdom teeth are the toughest, widest teeth and work to grind food. However, some people don't have all their wisdom teeth and they are the ones most likely to be missing from adult mouths - either because they're removed or some people just don't get all four.
Why do my wisdom teeth hurt?
For many people, wisdom teeth can cause pain and oral hygiene issues for a handful of reasons. Moreso than any other teeth, these molars are likely to cause issues such as impaction, when the tooth may not have enough room to erupt through the gum line as it should.
Here are some other ways wisdom teeth can potentially cause problems:
- Not enough room to brush and floss around the tooth
- May become impacted (never erupting through the gum line and causing problems with the teeth around them)
- Damage to nearby teeth
- Cavities or infection
- Lesions (tissue that appears abnormal)
- Bone loss around roots
Should I have my wisdom teeth pulled?
Sometimes, wisdom teeth may not need to be pulled if they are not causing any problems related to tooth functioning or pain.
Once wisdom teeth have emerged through the gum line, it's typically ideal to have them removed as a preventive measure sooner rather than later.
Because younger people usually heal faster and due to the fact the teeth and jaws have not completely finished developing, extraction is typically less complicated. They may also need to be extracted to prepare for orthodontic treatment.
An emergency extraction may be required if you are experiencing severe pain due to impacted wisdom teeth.
What if I do nothing about my wisdom teeth?
The answer to this question will depend on whether your wisdom teeth are causing (or are likely to cause, based on your dentist's assessment) issues for you now or in the future. Potential problems that may develop at any point include:
- Before the tooth emerges, the sack of tissue surrounding it can develop into a cyst, leading to bone loss in your jaw.
- Causing crowding or improper alignment of other teeth
- If the tooth is on its side under your gum, it can erode the roots and destroy nearby teeth.
- Plaque and bacteria can accumulate around a tooth that has only partially emerged.
- Potentially causing a dental emergency if an infection and/or complications develop.
- Untreated severe pain will not disappear by itself and may cause other dental issues.
What can I expect from the wisdom teeth extraction procedure?
The procedure for removing wisdom teeth depends on a few factors, including whether they've emerged through the gum line. If they've completely erupted, your dentist can perform a simple extraction. If not, they'll need to be surgically removed.
Both of these options involve much less pain than they have in the past, due to the fact dentists can use powerful topical or injectable anesthesia and current dental technology to perform the procedure.
In many cases, patients who have teeth "pulled" experience little to no discomfort, and only minor bleeding.
For a simple extraction, the dentist will numb the gums, then use a needle to introduce a stronger numbing medicine in the area.
They'll use a tool called an elevator to loosen the tooth before pulling it out of the gum with dental forceps (a plier-like device). The area will then be cleaned and packed with gauze to stop bleeding.
What should I do after my wisdom teeth have been removed?
We recommend scheduling the rest of your day off school or work to rest and allow the anesthesia to wear off.
If stitches were needed, they should dissolve after a few days. You can use an ice pack on your jaw to help manage swelling or discomfort.
You'll also want to stock up on ready-to-eat soft foods such as soup, pasta and rice, and avoid anything hot or spicy, to prevent irritation of the wound. Allow blood clots time to form over the site and ensure they are not disturbed - no aggressive rinsing. Wait until after the second day to begin brushing your teeth.
If you experience any fever, swelling or discomfort lasting beyond three days, contact us to arrange an appointment as this qualifies as a dental emergency.