What you need to know about your wisdom teeth

What you need to know about your wisdom teeth

Wisdom teeth are molars at the very back of your jaw, which usually come in when you are older, and hopefully wiser, than when your other permanent teeth erupted. Your dentist at Loock Dental can inform you of your wisdom teeth erupting as they show up in routine dental x rays, or through other symptoms.

At what age do wisdom teeth come in?

The most typical age for wisdom teeth to erupt is between 17 and 25 years of age, but they can be visible in the jaw years before this and some wisdom teeth make an appearance even later.

What are the symptoms of wisdom teeth coming in?

Wisdom teeth can remain below the surface and never erupt through the gums, or they can emerge as new molars alongside the other adult teeth, or they can impact on the back molars, causing problems.

Typical first signs of wisdom teeth erupting are swollen and tender gums at the back of your jaw. The discomfort is similar to a child teething, as the tooth may be trying to break through the gum tissue. You may also have gum bleeding, jaw pain and bad breath, or find it difficult to open your mouth very wide.

What problems can wisdom teeth cause?

Research shows that Infection in the gums (due to partial emergence of the wisdom teeth), impaction, and tumours or cysts are common problems caused by wisdom teeth emerging, and can potentially destroy adjacent teeth and bone.

Wisdom teeth sometimes emerge at an angle or don’t have enough room to grow out straight. This means they can push up against your existing molars. This is known as impaction, and it can cause damage to existing teeth, as well as serious infection.

One potential problem with impacted wisdom teeth is the formation of a cyst or tumour which can damage the other teeth’s roots and the jawbone if not treated early enough. A cyst is a fluid-filled sac that develops around the wisdom tooth.

Partial emergence, on the other hand, is when the tooth grows out skew, or only erupts a little from the gum, leaving just a small part of the tooth visible above the gums. This can be difficult to clean and can lead to a serious infection called ‘pericoronitis’ (this means ‘around the crown’) and must be corrected immediately. Symptoms include pain and swelling.

In addition to these problems, the wisdom teeth erupting can push existing teeth out of alignment, leading to crooked teeth. Your dentist will be able to diagnose any of these problems from the symptoms you have, and an X-ray.

Are wisdom teeth always bad?

Due to hearing so often of wisdom teeth being removed, people can get concerned that wisdom teeth are always a problem. While it is true that many dentists remove wisdom teeth preemptively to avoid common problems developing, others recommend leaving in any wisdom teeth which are healthy and not disrupting or damaging existing teeth.

Problems caused by wisdom teeth are so common because, by the time they erupt, the rest of the teeth and the jaw have already finished growing, and so there isn’t always enough room for them to grow without affecting other adult teeth.

How are wisdom teeth removed?

If your dentist diagnoses potential problems with your wisdom teeth and advises that they be removed, this procedure may be performed by your dentist or by an oral surgeon, depending on the complexity of the procedure. The procedure can be performed using local anaesthetic and sedation anaesthesia at your dentist’s rooms, or in hospital.

You are usually allowed to return home the same day as the procedure, but you will need to have someone drive you home if you have been sedated.

What to expect when recovering from wisdom teeth extraction

There will be some pain, swelling and bruising at least for a few days. This can be managed with cold compresses and pain medication prescribed for you. A little bleeding is normal, and you should try to avoid spitting too much so that you do not dislodge the blood clot blocking the wound. There will be some gauze over the site of the extraction and your dentist will advise you on how to replace this as necessary.

Drink plenty of water after the procedure, but avoid sugary or caffeinated drinks and alcohol for at least the first 24 hours. Eat soft food only, such as cooled soup and yogurt for the first 24 hours. After this you can move to semi soft foods like vegetable mashes or mince meat, but try to avoid hard, chewy, spicy or hot food until the wound has healed, to prevent irritating the socket or dislodging the blood clot.

If you smoke, avoid lighting up for at least 72 hours after having your wisdom teeth removed, and wait longer if possible. Chewing tobacco is also best avoided, as using tobacco products after surgery has been shown to slow healing and increase the chances of complications developing.

In some cases, you may have dissolving stitches, or stitches which need to be removed by your dentist or oral surgeon. They will discuss this with you and arrange any follow-up appointments at the time you need to have stitches removed.

You may be given a special disinfectant mouth wash or asked to gently rinse your mouth with a salt water solution regularly after the procedure.

When to contact your dentist after wisdom teeth have been removed

If you have any of the following symptoms in the days following your wisdom teeth extraction, call your dentist (or oral surgeon) immediately to get it checked out. The symptoms could be indicators of complications such as nerve damage or infection:

  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Excessive bleeding
  • Intense pain which your medications do not help relieve
  • Fever
  • Swelling in your jaw, gums or cheeks getting worse instead of better after 2 or 3 days
  • Pus in the socket, or pus or blood in nasal discharge (i.e. mucus coming out of your nose has blood or pus in it)
  • Continuous loss of feeling or numbness

If you have none of the above symptoms or complications and no stitches to remove, then you may not even need a follow-up appointment after the procedure. Otherwise, your dentist will let you know if there is a routine follow up appointment to be scheduled in.

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Marguerite MacRobert

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