The average adult has 32 teeth, including front teeth to bite with and back teeth to chew with. Wisdom teeth are often referred to as third molars because they are the last of the back molars to grow in. The average mouth, however, can only comfortably hold 28 teeth, meaning that those extra 4 wisdom teeth often end up not having room to come in. Questions about wisdom teeth are common in the dental office. Below are some of the most frequently asked questions about wisdom teeth removal.
Why Do Wisdom Teeth Need to be Removed?
The most common reason for wisdom teeth to be removed is simply that they don’t fit very well at the back of the mouth. Some complications that can occur if wisdom teeth are not removed include:
- Wisdom teeth erupting only part way or at an awkward angle. This can cause discomfort, inflammation, or infection if food and germs get trapped in the surrounding tissue.
- Tooth decay and gum disease, if the wisdom teeth are hard to reach and clean due to their position in the mouth.
- Crowding and pressure on other teeth, if there isn’t room in the jaw for the wisdom teeth.
- Impacted wisdom teeth (unable to erupt through the gums), leading to problems such as cysts, infection, or damage to the surrounding teeth.
What Type of Recovery Period Is Needed?
You should plan to set aside at least a few days to recover after oral surgery. Depending on how invasive the surgery is, the recovery time can vary from 1 – 2 days to approximately 5 – 7 days. For example, if the wisdom teeth are impacted, the procedure will be a little more complicated, depending on the position of the teeth and if there is existing inflammation.
The average recovery time is 3 days. During this time you should rest with your head propped up and take painkillers as prescribed. For the first day, apply an ice pack to the outside of the cheek for 15 – 20 minutes at a time. If there is any bleeding, bite gently on gauze pads and change them periodically.
After the first day, you can gently rinse your mouth with warm salt water to clean the mouth and reduce pain and swelling. Avoid brushing at first to ensure you don’t disrupt the stitches. Be sure to eat soft or thin foods such as pudding or soup, but avoid sucking on straws since this may disrupt the healing of the gum tissue. Gradually introduce more brushing and solid foods as you start to feel better.
What are the Risks Associated with Wisdom Teeth Removal?
If you are having your wisdom teeth removed, it is expected that there will be some amount of bleeding, tenderness, and swelling following the procedure. As with any surgical procedure, there is some risk of complications, so you should speak to your family dentist ahead of time if you have concerns. Possible complications include:
- Painful inflammation called “dry socket”, which occurs when the protective blood clot comes loose too soon.
- Numbness in the mouth or lips (after the anaesthetic wears off) caused by inflammation or damage around the nerves in the jaw.
- Bleeding that continues longer than 24 hours.
- Damage to existing dental work in the area such as crowds or bridges.
- Introduction of bacteria into the bloodstream.
- Complications from general anaesthetic, if used.
Most issues with wisdom teeth occur between the ages of 15 – 25, so early removal is recommended to avoid complications. An oral exam and x-rays can help your family dentist determine whether removal is recommended. If you are over 30 years old and have never had any issues, it’s likely that you don’t need to have your wisdom teeth removed. It is always best to consult your dentist to be sure.