Do You Need to Have Your Wisdom Teeth Removed?
Written by Dr. DeAngelis
Your mouth experiences many changes when you’re young. Baby teeth grow in, gradually fall out, and are eventually replaced by permanent adult teeth. But this evolution doesn’t end as soon as you might think.
Your final set of molars actually doesn’t appear until you’re nearly an adult! These back molars, called the wisdom teeth, earned their name because they come through at a more mature age than other permanent teeth. You can expect them to grow in between your 17th and 21st birthday.
However, unlike your other permanent adult teeth, wisdom teeth have the potential to cause serious pain and damage inside your mouth. They must be regularly monitored and evaluated to help you determine whether you need to have your wisdom teeth removed now.
What Are Wisdom Teeth?
Your wisdom teeth are the third and final set of molars to grow, usually in your late teens or early twenties. They emerge in the four back corners of your mouth, with two on top and two on the bottom.
It’s believed that early humans relied on their wisdom teeth to grind raw plant tissue and other tough foods. They probably had larger jaws that allowed more room for the third molars to grow in comfortably.
While it’s still possible for your wisdom teeth to grow in without any issues, most adults experience discomfort, crowding, and difficulties with their wisdom teeth. In fact, five million people have their wisdom teeth removed every year.
Signs Your Wisdom Teeth Are Causing Trouble
Wisdom teeth have the potential to cause many different problems in your mouth. If there isn’t enough space in the back of your mouth for wisdom teeth to come to the surface, they will erupt in the wrong position. Signs of wisdom teeth complications include these symptoms:
- Misaligned wisdom teeth trap food and cavity-causing bacteria
- Pain, swelling, and stiffness in the jaw
- Changes to surrounding teeth, including shifting and crowding
- Damage to roots of nearby teeth or bone
- Unpleasant taste or odor in your mouth
- Difficulty opening your mouth
- Tender or bleeding gums
During your normal six-month checkup, your dentist uses periodic X-rays to check the status of your wisdom teeth. Most dentists suggest wisdom teeth removal before a problem even forms in order to eliminate the potential of a more painful and complex procedure down the road.
What Are Impacted Wisdom Teeth?
Your dentist may refer to your wisdom teeth as “impacted” if they don’t have enough room to emerge through the gums normally. Imagine a tree trying to grow through soil that’s already covered in plants. The only way the tree can break through the ground is to push aside and damage everything around it.
This is exactly what happens when impacted wisdom teeth try to break through the gums. They may get stuck in any of the following situations:
- Grow at an angle toward other teeth
- Emerge “lying down” within the jawbone
- Stay trapped within the jawbone
All of these situations cause pain, discomfort, and serious risks to your oral health. If your dentist finds any signs that your wisdom teeth may be impacted, it’s best to have your wisdom teeth removed as soon as possible.
How Are Wisdom Teeth Removed?
The wisdom teeth extraction process is a safe, standard procedure performed across the country every day. Here are the steps you can expect:
- Local anesthesia or conscious sedation prevent pain, discomfort, and anxiety
- An oral surgeon or dentist removes the tissue and bone surrounding all four wisdom teeth
- Wisdom teeth are extracted from their sockets
- Stitches close each extraction site
If you opt to use oral conscious sedation like laughing gas, you won’t remember your wisdom teeth removal surgery or feel any pain.
Recovery lasts about three to five days. You can expect slight bleeding and swelling during the first 24 hours, and your jaw may feel stiff after the anesthesia wears off. Fortunately, standard over-the-counter pain medications can reduce your symptoms and provide relief.
Use these other tips to optimize your healing process after wisdom teeth removal:
- If antibiotics are prescribed, use as recommended
- Eat soft foods
- Avoid spicy foods, tobacco, and alcohol
- Rest and give the area time to heal
After about three to four weeks, your gum tissue will be completely healed and back to normal.
What Are Dry Sockets?
Dry sockets are the most common complication of wisdom teeth removal. A dry socket develops when a blood clot in the surgical site becomes dislodged and leaves portions of nerves and bones exposed. This is a painful throbbing sensation that quickly leads to inflammation and infection.
Most dry sockets occur between 3-5 days after surgery and can last up to a week before healing. The good news, at least, is that dry sockets are easy to treat. Your dentist will clean the socket, pack it with gauze and medicated gel, and advise you to clean it at home with saltwater.
You can reduce your risk of dry sockets by avoiding tobacco, carefully caring for your mouth after surgery, and following all of your dentist’s recommendations.
Learn More About Getting Your Wisdom Teeth Removed
Only your dentist can evaluate your wisdom teeth and help you determine whether they need to be removed. The team at DeAngelis Family Dentistry in Carlsbad, CA, offers the individualized care you deserve to keep your mouth healthy and attractive. Call (760) 444-5507 today to make your appointment and learn more about the effects your wisdom teeth could have on your smile.