The term "wisdom teeth" comes from the 17th century. It was a sign of a child attaining maturity. Usually wisdom tooth developments occur during the late teens or early twenties.
The wisdom teeth, or third molars, grow at the back of your gums and are the last teeth to come through. Most people have four wisdom teeth; one in each corner.
By the time the wisdom teeth grow through the gums, the other 28 adult teeth are usually in place. So there might not be enough room in the mouth for the wisdom teeth to grow properly.
The lack of space might cause the tooth to get stuck and only partially emerge. Or to emerge at an angle. Wisdom teeth that grow through like this are known as impacted.
An impacted wisdom tooth do not need to be extracted unless it's causing problems. If there are no problems caused by the wisdom tooth, extraction yields no benefit. And it carries the risk of complications.
So when is the wisdom tooth extraced?
Regular dental checkups allow the dentist to keep an eye on your dental growth. In most cases, the wisdom tooth comes out and settles very easily. But if there might be a problem, the dentist can assess it well ahead of time.
You should see a dentist if any of your wisdom teeth is causing severe toothache or inflammation.
Your dentist will usually carry out an X-ray of your mouth to check whether to remove your wisdom tooth. This gives them a clearer view of the position of your teeth.
In more severe cases the impacted wisdom tooth may have caused problems as:
- Pericoronitis, when the wisdom tooth has grown with the gum tissues covering it throughout. It is a painful condition with the gum swelled and inflamed.
- Tooth decay.
- Gum disease, aka "gingivitis" or "periodontal disease".
- Pus in your wisdom tooth or the surrounding tissue as a result of a bacterial infection.
Some of these conditions can be treated with antibiotics and antiseptic mouthwash. But if these do not work, the dentist will move on with wisdom tooth removal.
The procedure of wisdom tooth extraction
The procedure usually involves the use of local anesthesia before extraction. As soon as the area around the tooth is numb, the extraction is performed.
During extraction, your dental surgeon needs to widen the tooth socket. By rocking the tooth back and forth. Thus you will feel some pressure just before the tooth is removed. A small cut in the gum might be necessary to ease extraction.
Overall it is a pain-free procedure. It might take from a few minutes to 20 minutes, sometimes longer. Especially if the tooth needs to cutting into smaller pieces before it's removed.
Recovery after wisdom tooth extraction
As they are the third molars, wisdom teeth are bigger than most of the teeth. After extraction, the dentist might close up the cavity by stitching. The stitches take some time to heal.
After wisdom tooth removal, you may have swelling and discomfort. Both inside and outside your mouth. This is usually painful for the first 3 days, but it can last for up to 2 weeks.
First 24 hours
In the 24 hours right after extraction, avoid anything that may dislodge the blood clots that form in the empty tooth socket. Such as rinsing, spitting, hot drinks.
In addition to caring for your tooth socket to heal, the below help to reduce pain and speed up your recovery:
- Eat soft or liquid food and chew with your other teeth.
- Avoid strenuous activity and exercise.
- Use an extra pillow to support your head at night.
Use painkillers to manage the pain as indicated by your dentist.
Return to normal
Your mouth and face should return to normal after any swelling and bruising has disappeared.
You'll usually be able to brush your teeth normally after a few days.
Make sure you finish any course of antibiotics you've been given.