What to Expect When Getting Your Wisdom Teeth Removed
Wisdom teeth are the third and final set of back teeth to appear, generally in the late teens or early 20s, long after the rest of your permanent teeth have emerged.
In many cases, wisdom teeth need taking out. Their awkward positioning can damage other teeth, nerves and jaw bone. Wisdom teeth can also become impacted. This occurs when they stay enclosed within the gum or jaw, or only partially appear through the gum line.
Wisdom teeth are regarded by scientists and medics as vestigial organs that no longer serve a purpose. They are extracted either as a preventive measure or to address issues that have already become apparent because of how they have developed.
So, what should you expect when getting your wisdom teeth removed?
Extraction of Wisdom Teeth
The underlying problem with wisdom teeth is that in many cases there simply isn’t enough room for them. The human jaw has gradually become smaller with evolution, while the size of our teeth has remained pretty much the same.
Dentists say the best time to remove wisdom teeth is typically from the ages of 18 to 24, when sufficient tooth root has formed to facilitate the manipulation required by the surgical extraction process.
If you have wisdom teeth removed during your late teens or early adulthood, you can expect the procedure to run more smoothly than if you leave it until later, which increases the complexity of the process, with potential complications such as nerve damage and a longer recovery.
If your wisdom teeth have fully emerged, you can expect your dentist to be able to remove them relatively easily. Misaligned and/or impacted wisdom teeth may need one of the most difficult extraction procedures – removing a tooth piece by piece.
Depending on the intricacy of the procedure, you’ll be given local or general anesthesia. Sedation options are also available for nervous patients.
In the most straightforward cases, you can expect your wisdom teeth to come out quite easily with the use of forceps. However, it's often necessary to make an incision in the gum and drill out bone before wisdom teeth can be extracted.
What to Expect After Getting Your Wisdom Teeth Removed
Complete recovery after wisdom teeth extraction varies from a couple of weeks to a few months. It depends on the complexity of the procedure, type of anesthesia, and how much damage has been caused to the rest of your mouth.
If you’ve had a local anesthetic, you might be able to drive yourself home to begin your recovery or even resume normal activities immediately. If you’ve been given a general anesthetic, you’ll need someone to drive you home.
According to the WebMD1 health information platform, most patients experience little if any pain after having wisdom taken out, although there may be mild discomfort and swelling for a few days.
Recovery following wisdom teeth extraction will be faster if you follow your dentist’s instructions and take any medication that’s prescribed.
For the first three days after the extraction procedure, it’s recommended that you:
- Apply an ice pack to your face to reduce swelling.
- Drink plenty of fluids.
- Gently open and close your mouth to exercise your jaw.
- Stick to soft foods such as soup, pasta or rice.
Be aware that smoking can slow healing after wisdom teeth extraction, and you shouldn’t drink through a straw, which can disturb blood clots that help your mouth to mend.
Problems That Wisdom Teeth Cause
Ongoing dental problems often occur when wisdom teeth remain in place. This is why dentists in the U.S. frequently extract wisdom teeth as a preventive measure – to stop issues including tooth decay and gum disease – as well as to address problems that already exist.
Besides cavities and gum infection, impacted wisdom teeth can also result in:
- Sinus problems causing headaches and congestion.
- Bacterial infection in the throat, tongue or cheek.
Wisdom teeth themselves are also prone to decay because they're difficult to clean.
If you maintain six-monthly dental exams as recommended by the American Dental Association2 (ADA), your dentist will be able to monitor the development and emergence of wisdom teeth. X-rays can spot impacted wisdom teeth before any symptoms are apparent.
The ADA recommends removal of wisdom teeth in cases of:
- Gum disease (periodontitis).
- Tumors or cysts.
- Damage to nearby teeth.
Symptoms of wisdom teeth problems include:
- Stiff jaw.
- Generally feeling unwell.
Wisdom Teeth and Future Complications
Complications arising from wisdom teeth can sometimes become an emergency situation. If your wisdom teeth are left in place, they will need to be constantly monitored by your dentist.
Most adults have four wisdom teeth but some have fewer or, on rare occasions, more. Others don’t get wisdom teeth at all. Some experts predict that wisdom teeth could eventually disappear.
Meanwhile, if you need your wisdom teeth taken out, you’re far from alone. Nearly 85 percent of adults have had their wisdom teeth extracted. Two in three people get wisdom teeth, and 90 percent don’t have sufficient room in their mouth for them. Millions of people in the U.S. have their wisdom teeth extracted every year.
You may decide to keep your wisdom teeth if they’ve fully erupted, are positioned properly with a good bite function, and you can get at them to clean them. Nevertheless, even if your wisdom teeth are causing no problems now, they may well do so in the future, when extraction can be more difficult.
Why You Need a Wisdom Teeth Specialist
Each wisdom teeth case differs from others, and healing times can vary greatly. A specialist in wisdom teeth removal can:
- Diagnose the severity of your problem.
- Determine the most effective treatment.
- Talk you through the entire extraction process.
If you want to find out more about what to expect when getting your wisdom teeth removed, consult a dentist experienced in wisdom teeth extraction3. If you’re a particularly anxious patient, your dentist should be able to recommend sedation4 medication to make the procedure less stressful.