We’ve all seen the goofy videos of friends and family members playing pranks on young people under sedation after getting their wisdom teeth removed. Wisdom teeth removal has become a teenage rite of passage for a lot of kids. But what are wisdom teeth exactly? Does everyone get them and does everyone need to get them removed?
What Are Wisdom Teeth?
Wisdom teeth are also called third molars, and they generally appear at the back of the mouth between the ages of 17 and 25. Most people have four wisdom teeth, but some of us have fewer and a handful of people don’t get them at all. Those back molars are called wisdom teeth because they show up at an older age when we’re presumably a little wiser. Most experts agree that we don’t really need them–they’re leftover from when our prehistoric diets required a lot more hard-core chewing.
Does Everyone Get Their Wisdom Teeth Removed?
Wisdom teeth themselves aren’t automatically a problem. But problems do happen when they come in the wrong way. There’s often just not enough space in our mouths to accommodate them. They also tend to be harder to clean and decay easier than other teeth, and that can cause problems. For these reasons, dentists recommend extraction for many teens and young adults. If your wisdom teeth come through properly, they’re just an additional set of molars. However, because of the tendency to decay, your dentist will continue to monitor them carefully even if there aren’t any immediate problems. Be sure to brush and floss them well and get x-rays every year to make sure there aren’t any emerging problems.
What Are Some of the Complications with Wisdom Teeth?
According to the American Dental Association, wisdom teeth cause problems when there isn’t enough space for them in your mouth or when they come through the gums in the wrong position. This often makes extraction the best and safest option. Some potential problems related to wisdom teeth include:
- Wisdom teeth can become impacted, which means they get stuck and don’t break through the gums.
- Cysts can grow near the impacted tooth which can damage other teeth or the jaw bone, according to the ADA.
- Wisdom teeth can crowd your existing teeth.
- If a wisdom tooth has partially erupted, it can allow bacteria to get into the gums and cause an infection.
- Wisdom teeth that come in at the wrong angle can cause food to become trapped, creating a breeding ground for bacteria and making it hard to floss.
What Are Some Signs Of Problems With My Wisdom Teeth?
Getting regular dental check-ups from an early age is important on so many levels. As your children grow, your family dentist will follow their oral health history and keep a close eye on wisdom teeth as they move through the teen years. In some cases, your dentist will recommend preventive wisdom tooth removal to avoid potential problems. Teens and young adults should also see their dentist right away if they experience any of the following:
- Pain in the back of the mouth
- Painful cysts in the mouth
- Damage to neighboring teeth
- Gum disease at the back of the mouth
What Are My Options for Wisdom Tooth Extraction?
Wisdom tooth extraction can be done by your dentist or by an oral surgeon depending on how deeply the tooth is impacted. In most cases, wisdom tooth extractions are done with local anesthesia or sedation anesthesia, which limits consciousness to help with pain and anxiety during the procedure. Sedation is an increasingly popular option for wisdom tooth removal and can be administered right in your family dentist’s office. In some cases when the tooth is severely impacted, your dentist will refer you to an oral surgeon who can use general anesthesia in a surgical setting.
How Does Wisdom Tooth Extraction Work?
The Mayo Clinic offers a good nutshell version of a wisdom tooth extraction:
- In many cases, your dentist will get you started on a round of antibiotics before the procedure to avoid infection.
- On the day of the procedure, your dentist makes an incision to expose the tooth and bone and removes any bone that blocks access to the tooth root.
- Your dentist removes the tooth–in some cases, he will need to divide the tooth into pieces for easier removal.
- Your dentist cleans the extraction site and, if needed, stitches the wound to promote healing.
- Your dentist puts gauze on the wound to control bleeding and help a clot to form.
What Does Recovery From Wisdom Tooth Removal Involve?
Wisdom tooth extraction is a safe outpatient procedure that can usually be performed right in your dentist’s office. However, it’s not a routine dental procedure that allows you to go right back to work or school. There’s a recovery process involved. Here are a few steps you can expect after an extraction:
- Have someone with you to take you home after your extraction and plan to rest for the remainder of the day.
- Some swelling and mild discomfort are normal. Swelling should go away within a few days, and pain should be gone by after a week.
- In most cases, over the counter pain relievers like ibuprofen are enough to manage post-extraction pain, but your dentist can prescribe pain medication for more complicated cases.
- Ice packs are an excellent way to manage pain and swelling without additional medication.
- Continue to take antibiotics as prescribed by your dentist.
- We recommend soft foods at first, especially during the first 24 hours. You can gradually work up to your regular diet, but avoid hard foods that may damage the clot that forms as your gums heal.
- If your discomfort continues after ten days or if you experience bleeding, let your dentist know.
Your Family Dentist and Your Wisdom Teeth
One of the most important elements about building a relationship with your family dentist is having someone who can get to know your children and note changes in their teeth and gums as they grow. At Greenhill Family Dental Care, wisdom teeth are always on our radar screen as our young patients move into their teens. Regular check-ups and x-rays are key to keeping tabs on those final molars. We believe in careful monitoring and will recommend removal when necessary. We routinely perform successful wisdom tooth extractions and offer sedation dentistry as needed to keep you comfortable. If an impacted tooth requires care from an oral surgeon, we’ll provide a referral and help you choose the right practice. But in most cases, we can safely remove wisdom teeth in the comfort and familiar environment of our office.