Wisdom teeth typically emerge during a person’s late teens or early twenties. They are the third and final set of molars located at the back of the mouth. Most people have two of these molars on the top of their mouth and two at the bottom. In some people, these teeth emerge healthy and properly aligned so that they do not cause a problem. More often, however, these teeth do not emerge through the gum correctly or are significantly misaligned so that they crowd nearby teeth. When this occurs, the teeth must be surgically removed.
How to Determine if You Have Wisdom Teeth:
Routine dental X-rays can determine if you have wisdom teeth and evaluate their development and position. If the X-rays reveal that a wisdom tooth is misaligned or that it will not be able to push through the gums normally, the dentist may recommend that it be removed even if you are not currently experiencing any symptoms. This can alleviate the need for an even more complicated extraction down the road.
What is an Impacted Wisdom Tooth?
In many cases, a wisdom tooth will only partially emerge through the gums. They may even become trapped within the gums where they can grow against nerves in the jaw. This is known as an impaction. If not treated, an impaction can cause considerable pain and compromise the health of nearby teeth, bone, and tissue.
Symptoms of an Impacted Wisdom Tooth:
The first symptom of an impacted wisdom tooth is typically pain and swelling in the jaw that can make it difficult for you to open your mouth. Your gums may also be tender, swollen, red, or even bleed. Because wisdom teeth typically grow at unnatural angles, they can be difficult to clean. This can lead to tooth decay, persistent bad breath, and infection. Some wisdom teeth develop in sacs called cysts. These cysts can eventually fill with fluid and damage nearby bone and tissue.
What to Expect During a Wisdom Tooth Extraction:
Your dentist will do everything possible to make you comfortable during your wisdom tooth extraction. The area will be numbed using a local anesthetic. Depending on the circumstances, an additional sedative may be used help you relax and to ease any anxiety. Depending on the angle and the stage of development of the tooth, the dentist may have to make an incision into the gum in order to remove the bone that is obstructing the tooth. If the tooth is completely emerged through the gum, it can often be extracted the same way as any other tooth.
Recovery Following Wisdom Tooth Extraction:
The speed of your recovery following a wisdom tooth extraction depends primarily on the complexity of the extraction. Younger patients also tend to recover faster than older adults. You should avoid spitting, rinsing, or anything that involves a sucking action during the first 24 hours following the extraction to avoid dislodging the blood clot at the extraction site. Pain relievers and cold compresses can be used to alleviate pain and swelling. You should restrict yourself to soft foods for the first few days following the procedure. If you were prescribed antibiotics prior to your extraction to treat infection, you should take the entire course as directed to prevent a recurrence of the infection.