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Everything You Wanted to Know About Wisdom Teeth

Congratulations! You’ve handled your dental checkup like a professional. You walked in like a champ, zoned-out the sound of drilling, and are ready come out of the office with a clean, healthy smile.

But what’s this? 

Your dentist looks at your x-rays and notes that your wisdom teeth are on their way, or perhaps that they’ve already developed. You learn that they’re starting to push your other molars out of place. If you’re worried about wisdom teeth, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s everything you need to know about these oft troublesome dental features, so you can relax the next time you visit the dentist.

What Are Wisdom Teeth?

Wisdom teeth are the third set of molars that appear in the back of your jaw. While most adults develop four wisdom teeth, some individuals develop fewer while others may have more (also known as supernumerary teeth).

Who Put the “Wisdom” in Wisdom Teeth?

People have called this third set of molars the “teeth of wisdom” since the 17th century. By the early 19th century, these molars gained the title “wisdom teeth.” The namesake is due to their appearance occurring much later than other teeth, usually when you are in your late teens or early twenties. Some scholars call this age the “age of wisdom”.

Why Do We Have Wisdom Teeth?

In the past, wisdom teeth helped to grind down plant tissue. Some experts believe that the skulls of our human ancestors had larger jaws, so they could fit more teeth. However, as the human diet changed, evolution provided us with smaller jaws. Wisdom teeth became unnecessary, even though they still develop in human mouths.

Why Do Wisdom Teeth Require Extraction?

In some cases, wisdom teeth do not need to be removed. If your jaw is large enough, and if the wisdom teeth align correctly with your other teeth, then you may be able to keep your wisdom teeth. However, most wisdom teeth don’t have room to grow in properly. This forces them to grow in at unusual angles, sometimes horizontally. When this happens, it creates pressure on the surrounding teeth and can even cause nerve damage.

When Should Wisdom Teeth Be Removed?

Many dentists believe that wisdom teeth should be removed at a young age, sometimes before the wisdom teeth fully form roots. This minimizes damage to the surrounding teeth, and it makes it easier to extract the teeth. Furthermore, young adults are more likely to recover quickly from surgery, while older patients have a greater risk for complications. While wisdom tooth extraction works well for a variety of age groups, ideally it’s best to remove wisdom teeth between 18 and 24 years of age.

What to Expect During a Wisdom Tooth Extraction

Wisdom tooth extractions vary depending on your oral surgeon and your individual needs. Your surgeon will select an appropriate anesthesia depending on the complexity of the extraction and your comfort level. Generally speaking, there are three levels of anaesthesia: 

  • Receiving one or more injections near the extraction site, so the gums feel numb. You will be awake during the procedure.

  • Receiving an intravenous line in your arm which suppresses your consciousness during surgery. Your oral surgeon will also numb the gums with local anesthesia.

  • Inhaling anesthesia through your nose. You are unconscious during the procedure. This anesthesia is less common, though oral surgeons use it for special cases.

No matter which anesthetic your surgeon chooses, you should not feel any pain during the surgery itself. Once you have been anesthetized, the surgeon will then open any gum tissue over the tooth and separate the tissue connecting the tooth to the bone. They may break the tooth into smaller pieces to make it easier to remove. Your oral surgeon will then clean the site and stitch the wound closed.

Recovering After the Surgery

Recovery time, like surgery, varies depending on the difficulty of the extraction and your individual situation. If you received local anesthesia, then you may only need a brief recovery time in the dental chair. If you received sedation anesthesia, you may need some time in the recovery room after the procedure. It is common to need someone else to safely drive you home. After the surgery, it’s best to follow your doctor’s instructions regarding activity, food, and cleaning. You may resume your normal activities within a few hours or it may take a few days before you feel ready to get back to work.

It’s important that you don’t brush your teeth, rinse your mouth, or use mouthwash during the first 24 hours after surgery. After that, you may gently rinse your mouth with warm salt water after meals. When brushing your teeth, be particularly gentle near the stitching.

If you have additional questions about wisdom teeth, or wisdom teeth extraction, don’t be afraid to ask your dentist for further information.


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