Your wisdom teeth are a set of four adult teeth located in the back corners of your mouth. Wisdom teeth grow in usually between the ages of 17 and 24. Hence why they are called wisdom teeth in the first place: for the wise young adults who produce them.
Most anthropologists believe wisdom teeth were necessary for our caveman ancestors, who lived on a diet of raw roots, leaves, meat, and nuts. But since then, we evolved to cook our food and use utensils that otherwise cut, crush, and mash it into manageable pieces. In other words, modern humans just don’t need wisdom teeth anymore.
An oral and maxillofacial surgeon or your dentist can remove (extract) a wisdom tooth. The procedure often can be done in the dentist's or surgeon's office. You may have the surgery in the hospital, especially if you are having all your wisdom teeth pulled at one time or if you are at high risk for complications.
When our modern diets evolved, so too did our jawlines. Unfortunately for many of us, our wisdom teeth never got the memo. Our downsized mandibles no longer have room to comfortably fit wisdom teeth, but the majority of people still develop them. And it is this one step in our human development that causes many of us to seek wisdom tooth pain relief.
For some people, wisdom teeth coming in turns out to be no big deal; they experience no wisdom tooth pain or other problems because their teeth erupt fully and without issue. In other cases, wisdom teeth don’t have enough room to come in normally, if at all. Make an appointment with your dentist if you notice any of the following symptoms:
When a wisdom tooth forms in the mouth but never breaks through the gums, it is referred to as impacted. One that emerges only part way is called a partially impacted wisdom tooth. In both cases, the tooth often grows at an angle because of lack of space in the mouth. This becomes the source of many potential problems, including:
Removing a tooth that's fully visible in the mouth is a fairly simple procedure; it involves numbing with a local anesthetic, and after a bit of work around the gum, the tooth is out. However, this is usually not the case with wisdom teeth. Located in the back of your mouth, most wisdom teeth don't have enough room to come in properly and are referred to as impacted. In fact, nine out of 10 people have at least one impacted tooth.
Extracting impacted teeth usually requires the removal of some bone and gum tissue, making the procedure more involved than removing teeth that are positioned normally. And because all four teeth are usually removed at once, most offices recommend some type of sedation during the procedure.
Before deciding on the best option of anesthesia for your extractions, you and your dentist will need to discuss your anxiety level and the procedure's complexity. Consider the most common types of sedation used in dental offices today:
Wisdom tooth removal usually is effective in preventing:
In most cases, the recovery period lasts only a few days. Take painkillers as prescribed by your dentist or oral surgeon. The following tips will help speed your recovery.
Your dentist will remove the stitches after a few days, if needed.
You might be surprised to hear that the hole takes several months to fully close after tooth extraction. Your dentist will also advise you to avoid certain activities for a period of time because of the risk of dry socket. The name makes it sound pretty innocuous, but it is actually very painful and potentially dangerous.
After wisdom tooth surgery, a blood clot forms in the hole in the bone where the tooth was removed — otherwise known as the socket. This blood clot protects the exposed bone and nerves, but if it dislodges or dissolves in the days following surgery, your bone and nerves are left exposed to food, fluids, and bacterial infections.
To help prevent dry socket after wisdom tooth removal, avoid these activities for about two weeks post surgery:
It is essential to keep the wound clean while it is healing. Because people still need to eat and drink, food can easily get stuck in the area where the tooth was removed. This can make keeping the wound area clean a bit challenging.
Try the following to help keep the wound clean:
As well as pain, some people will feel tired after having their wisdom teeth out and might choose to avoid exercise for a few days after the surgery.
Eating soft or liquid foods can help to prevent damage to wounds. Some examples are:
For the first few days after surgery, avoid foods that need chewing, such as sticky candy or chewing gum as these may get stuck and can cause pain and damage to the healing wounds. Also avoid hard, crunchy food, such as chips, pretzels, nuts, and seeds, as well as hot or spicy foods.
If one or two wisdom teeth have been removed from the same side of the mouth, it may be possible to chew on the opposite side of the mouth after 24 hours.
Recovery from wisdom teeth removal usually takes a couple of weeks. Some people might need stitches to help close the wound. The dental surgeon will usually remove the stitches after about 1 week. Sometimes, the surgery causes bruising, swelling, and pain, which will also require time to heal. The healing process can be broken down into the following stages:
Recovery time will be different for everyone. If blood clots become dislodged from the wound, or the wound becomes infected, recovery may take longer.
Though this surgery is a common procedure and usually goes well, wisdom teeth removal complications can occur. Anywhere from 2.6% to 30.9% of patients experience complications from wisdom tooth removal. Being prepared for these possibilities is key to appropriately handling or even preventing them. Here are five of the most common complications to help you jump-start a discussion with your dentist.
Pain and swelling are expected after an extraction, though the extent varies by person. In a study, men reported less pain than women. Though pain is subjective, the study cited that, in the first day following surgery, 53% of patients had mild pain and 47% had severe pain. Only 15.2% had severe pain within one week after surgery. The amount of pain and swelling may be connected to how long the surgery takes. Your dentist may advise taking over-the-counter pain medications, eating a soft diet and avoiding strenuous physical activity to relieve your symptoms.
The wisdom teeth are close to the inferior alveolar nerve running through the jaw. If the nerve becomes damaged during an extraction, it can lead to lip numbness. This complication can spontaneously resolve, and does within two months in about 96% of patients. Your surgeon will minimize the possibility of nerve damage while removing the tooth or teeth and will inform you of your risks for this complication prior to surgery.
You may also experience: