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wisdom teeth illustration

What Are Wisdom Teeth?

Wisdom teeth are the third molars that erupt between the ages of 17 and 21. Their name refers to the notion that you are wiser by the time you reach the age they erupt. While some people are able to keep their wisdom teeth, most people opt to get them removed to avoid dental problems.

doctor working on patient mouth
Did You Know?

The American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (AAOMS) estimates that 85% of wisdom teeth will need to be extracted to avoid dental complications. It has also been found that 9 out of 10 people have impacted wisdom teeth, although 35% of people are born without wisdom teeth.

Frequently Asked Questions

Although not useful today, our wisdom teeth are part of our evolutionary history. Since our early ancestors foraged for leaves, roots, nuts, and meat, our jaws evolved to chew these tough foods. The presence of a third set of molars increases chewing power and makes it easier to eat tough foods. However, wisdom teeth are now considered a vestigial organ, or functionless body part, since our diet has changed to softer foods and we use tools like silverware to eat instead of depending on our teeth to shred food.

There are a few reasons why your wisdom teeth may need to be extracted. Most of these reasons revolve around preventing damage to your teeth, jaws, sinuses, gums, and to prevent cavities.

Erupted wisdom teeth can also cause alignment problems and overcrowding. When we needed wisdom teeth, our skulls used to be much larger and could accommodate the extra set of molars. However, in modern times our skulls have gotten smaller and cannot properly accommodate these extra teeth, meaning that our mouths can become overcrowded when wisdom teeth erupt.

Most people opt to have their wisdom teeth removed as soon as they start to come in. Some signs that your wisdom teeth may need to be extracted include: overcrowding in the mouth, pain or irritation of the teeth and gums, difficulty eating, cysts forming around the tooth, sudden sinus issues, cavities, and wisdom teeth that come in crooked or impartially. Generally speaking, it is better to have your wisdom teeth extracted at a young age because they have not completely fused to the jaw bone yet.

Wisdom Teeth eruptions

In some rare cases, you may be actually able to keep your wisdom teeth. If your wisdom teeth erupt correctly and do not cause overcrowding, then you will most likely be able to keep them without dental problems.

When wisdom teeth start to erupt, the back of your mouth will feel tender and swollen. Your gums will be inflamed and you may be able to see or feel the tooth starting to erupt. During the eruption process, you will want to keep your mouth clean to prevent infection and pay attention to any warning signs of infection. Signs your wisdom teeth could be causing an infection are bad breath, foul taste, the presence of pus, throbbing, swelling, and a dull pressure in the back of your mouth.

During your wisdom teeth extraction, you will be sedated to maintain your comfort and keep you relaxed. This sedation may put you to sleep or you may be partially awake. Despite this, many patients do not remember the procedure. Your our dentists will use special tools to extract your teeth and then suture up your gums. During the extraction, some patients report feeling pressure, but never pain.  The entire procedures takes only about 45 minutes. After the procedure, you will wake up with gauze in your mouth and will need someone to drive you home because of your sedation.

After you have your wisdom teeth removed, your mouth will be sore for a few days following the extraction and you may experience some mild bleeding. Over the counter pain medication and cold compresses can be used to reduce pain and swelling, however any discomfort should fade within a few days. In the first week following surgery, you will also want to eat softer foods that do not irritate your gums and will not damage your sutures. Finally, you will want to keep your mouth clean to avoid infection and brush carefully around the extraction site.

If a few days have passed and you are experiencing intense pain or pain that gradually increases, then you may have a dry socket. After your teeth is pulled, a blood clot will form in the remaining socket to protect the jaw bone and underlying nerves. Dry sockets occur when this blood clot gets dislodged and exposes the bone and nerves to air, food, and fluid. Dry sockets are extremely rare and only a very small fraction of people experience dry sockets after wisdom teeth removal.

If you smoke, have poor oral hygiene, experience great trauma during the extraction, use birth control pills, or have a previous history of dry sockets, then you may have an increased risk of developing a dry socket. Drinking through a straw after your extraction or violent rinsing and spitting can also cause a dry socket to occur.

If a dry socket were to occur, our dentists will clean out the socket and then fill it with special medicine to prevent infection, reduce pain, and promote healing. Depending on your individual case, you may have to come back to our office every few days so we can monitor your progress and change the medication as needed.

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