Your dentist just told you that you need your wisdom teeth removed. You’ve heard horror stories about traumatic wisdom tooth extractions. What does it mean? How do you know you really need your wisdom teeth pulled? Read on to learn everything you need to know about wisdom teeth removal.
What are Wisdom Teeth?
Your third molars, more commonly referred to as wisdom teeth, are the last teeth in your mouth. The molars, two on top and two on bottom, are known as wisdom teeth because they don’t erupt until you’re older, usually in your late teens or early twenties.
Symptoms of wisdom teeth growing are very similar to any other teeth erupting. You may notice tender, red, swollen gums in the affected areas. Some people will have jaw pain, bad breath, a bad taste in the mouth, or difficulty opening your mouth.
If your wisdom teeth grow in correctly, they may help you chew food. For many people, this isn’t the case which leads to removal of the teeth. There are several reasons that you may need your wisdom teeth extracted.
Fun fact: Some people don’t have wisdom teeth! Up to 40% of people worldwide are missing at least one third molar!
How Do I Know I Need My Wisdom Teeth Removed?
Though third molars may have been useful at some point, they cause significant problems for many people. In the United States, dentists remove more than 10 million wisdom teeth each year. That’s a lot of teeth!
Some wisdom teeth grow in like regular teeth, so if you don’t have pain or dental problems, then your dentist probably won’t recommend removal. However, there are several reasons to remove wisdom teeth:
- Infection or cavities in the wisdom tooth or teeth
- Lesions or tissue abnormalities around the teeth
- Damage to surrounding teeth
- Bone loss near the roots of the wisdom teeth
- Lack of space to accommodate the tooth or teeth
- Sinus issues from the extra pressure at the back of the jaw
Additionally, your dentist may suggest wisdom tooth removal as a precaution. Usually, your dentist can tell by your x-rays if you have one of these conditions:
- Unerupted wisdom teeth can create cysts beneath the surface that may lead to bone loss in your jaw.
- If it’s under your gum and angled improperly, it can affect and weaken the roots of nearby teeth.
- Bacteria and plaque can build up around a partially erupted tooth that can be impossible to clean which would then lead to cavities or infection.
What Does It Mean When Wisdom Teeth are Impacted?
Impacted wisdom teeth can’t grow in properly and typically remain below the surface of your gum line. They usually can’t erupt because there’s not enough space, leading the wisdom teeth to move where they can. The lack of space and movement can cause any of the above problems to develop in your mouth – not fun!
When Should You Get Your Wisdom Teeth Removed?
There is no “correct age” for wisdom tooth removal, but it usually occurs between ages 18 and 25. Some people get their wisdom teeth at a young age and others get them pulled as adults.
It is generally easier to do wisdom teeth extraction when you’re younger because the healing process is a little quicker. However, if you’re in your 40s and having significant pain or developing dental problems, it’s better to have them removed. Your dentist is the best person to make the determination about your wisdom teeth.
Is wisdom tooth removal painful?
No, it shouldn’t be. With proper anesthesia, you should only feel pressure/pushing, not pain. If you do feel any sort of “sharpness”, or pain, let your dentist know that you’re not fully numb. However, there are many different variables to consider for every patient.
How to Prepare for Wisdom Teeth Removal
Just like any surgery, it’s important to prepare for your procedure. To make things easier on yourself, a little pre-planning can go a long way!
Your dentist can provide a lot of information about what to expect, but it helps to do your own research and ask questions. Create a list for your surgeon so you know exactly what to expect. You may have some decisions to make and it helps to do research on your own before you have to finalize your choices.
- What time do you need to arrive? Should you be early?
- Is there paperwork you can complete ahead of time?
- How long can you expect to be at the office?
- Do they use local or general anesthesia?
- Do you need to fast the night before?
- What is the recovery process like? Do you have any post-op restrictions?
- Do they prescribe pain medication or should you just use over the counter pain relievers?
Prepare for Aftercare
Chances are good that you won’t be up for much of anything after surgery. Your bed will probably sound delightful, so you may want to prep your home so you don’t have to run around gathering things afterward.
- Have ice packs on hand for swelling.
- Wash your bedding so that it’s fresh and smelling nice because it’s soothing.
- Do all laundry and cleaning before your surgery so your house is clean and you can relax.
Also, you’re probably not going to be in the mood for a grocery store visit after you get your wisdom teeth pulled. Make sure you stock up on plenty of soft foods so you can eat something. These are some of our top recommendations:
- Gelato, Sorbet, or Ice cream
- Smoothies or Milkshakes
- Mashed potatoes
- Scrambled Eggs
- Protein shakes
What to Expect At Your Appointment
It helps to know what to expect when you show up for your wisdom tooth extraction. Your dentist or surgeon will use anesthesia to numb the area and may give you something to relax. It’s common to doze off and sleep through the whole procedure!
During the procedure, the surgeon may have to cut your gums open to remove the teeth. They use dissolvable stitches to close openings so that they heal properly. You may wake up to gauze in your mouth to help control the bleeding.
Typically, your procedure shouldn’t take more than 45 minutes. It may take time for you to wake up depending on the type of anesthesia your surgeon uses. If you only had local anesthetic, you may be able to go about your day. However, in most cases, you probably want somebody else to drive you home.
What to Expect After Wisdom Teeth Extraction
People react differently to wisdom teeth removal. Some people have little to no pain and limited swelling. Others have swelling and discomfort for a few days afterward. Typically, you can expect to experience some soreness, bleeding, and swelling afterward. Of course, there is a small chance of developing complications.
- Dry socket, or alveolar osteitis, develops when the blood clot protecting your extraction site dislodges and leaves the nerve exposed. It only occurs in 2% to 5% of wisdom tooth extractions.
- Temporary difficulty opening your mouth following the procedure.
- Excessive bleeding after the initial eight to twelve hour post-surgical period. Your surgeon will advise you on how to minimize bleeding.
- Lip numbness is an extremely rare side effect that occurs when the inferior alveolar nerve sustains damage during the procedure. It’s usually temporary.
Even if you don’t have any problems, it typically takes a few weeks to heal completely. It’s important to follow your doctor’s discharge instructions to make recovery quicker and easier. Here are some tips to get you started:
- Do use ice packs to manage swelling.
- Don’t use a straw because the sucking motion could disrupt your healing.
- Do gently open and close your mouth to help your jaw.
- Don’t rinse too roughly with the saltwater rinse.
- Do eat soft foods and drink plenty of fluids.
- Don’t eat anything hard, sticky, or crunchy.
If you experience fever at any point, or your pain and swelling don’t improve after a few days, contact your doctor.
What Happens if I Don’t Get My Wisdom Teeth Removed?
There is a lot of discussion about wisdom teeth and how to determine when to remove them, but there are many cases where extraction is the best way to prevent long term problems. If you choose not to have your wisdom teeth removed, you could be opening yourself to unnecessary pain and more expensive treatment down the road.
Spacing and Alignment Issues
If you’ve had braces already, you probably don’t want them again. Wisdom teeth can ruin that smile you spent so much time (and money) perfecting. When there is not enough room to accommodate those back molars, you can end up with a series of complications.
The spacing issues can also affect the surrounding teeth. What happens when teeth are so close together that you can’t run a string of floss between your teeth? You’re going to end up with food debris and bacteria built up there and that means cavities. Not only will you need dental work, it may result in you losing more teeth.
Cysts and Tumors
If the sac around a wisdom tooth fills with fluid it creates a cyst. The cyst applies pressure to everything around it including jawbone, gums, and surrounding teeth. This means that everything around the cyst can be weakened and destroyed. Occasionally, untreated cysts can result in a tumor that would require more significant intervention.
While wisdom teeth surgery may not sound pleasant, the alternatives are far worse. If you’re experiencing symptoms of wisdom teeth growing in, it’s important to see a dentist soon. Contact the Jefferson Dental Care office nearest you to make an appointment to have those wisdom teeth evaluated!