What are wisdom teeth?

No, wisdom teeth are not an indication of how wise you are. Some people don’t get them at all! But for those who do, this third set of molars can cause a lot of problems.

Wisdom teeth get their name because they tend to show up later in life, generally between the ages of 17-25. Anthropologists believe humans evolved the large, flat molars to break down rough foods, like leaves, nuts and roots. Some experts suggest that as our diet evolves, the need for wisdom teeth diminishes (hence why some people will never develop wisdom teeth.)

What’s the problem?

All molars take up a lot of room in the mouth, and sometimes our jaws don’t allow enough room for these late-to-the-party teeth. When the molars do not erupt from the gums properly, this is called impaction. Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent impacted wisdom teeth, and the result can be quite painful, even potentially causing damage to surrounding teeth.

Even if your molars grow in correctly at first, they can shift over the years well into your 30s. Impacted teeth will not correct themselves on their own and require attention from your dentist. Even if an unerupted tooth is not causing pain or redness, it can become infected later on. An infected wisdom tooth can lead to cysts, decay, and gum disease.

What can be done?

Nearly 10 million wisdom teeth are removed from the mouths of Americans every year. While nothing can be done to prevent wisdom teeth impaction, regular check-ups with your dentist allows us to monitor for signs of eruption, or lack thereof. Dental x-rays are a great tool for us to use to see impacted teeth before symptoms set in and to monitor damage to your jaw and surrounding teeth.

Wisdom teeth are removed in a process called extraction. Depending on the severity of the impaction and/or infection, you may require anywhere from local anesthesia to general anesthesia. Wisdom tooth extractions are almost always performed as outpatient procedures, so you will be allowed to go home the same day.

There are many restrictions during recovery after an extraction to ensure you heal properly and as painlessly as possible, we definitely encourage plenty of ice cream, soup, and Jell-O to help the healing process!

Tips for recovery

  • After wisdom teeth extractions, patients must adhere to strict guidelines to avoid complications:
  • Do not drink from a straw
  • Take pain medication as prescribed
  • No solid food for at least the first 24 hours. After that, move to semi-soft foods when you feel capable.
  • Wait to resume normal oral care. We typically suggest waiting to brush your teeth for the first 24 hours but recommend rinsing with warm salt water several times a day before that.
  • Keep an eye on your stitches. You may have dissolvable stitches, which will disappear on their own, or stitches that may need to be removed at the office.

These tips can help you avoid what are referred to as “dry sockets.” Dry sockets form when the blood clot falls out of the surgical site, exposing the jaw bone. Dry sockets can be very painful, so be sure to call immediately if you suspect a dry socket has formed.

Catching impacted wisdom teeth before they become infected can help tremendously with pain and cost. If you feel your wisdom teeth haven’t developed correctly or you’re just interested in checking in, call to schedule an appointment at (208) 782-0242.