Wisdom teeth are a person’s set of third molars, and the last teeth to develop and appear in the mouth. These teeth are relics of a time when humans had larger jaws and a greater need for more teeth in their mouth. They got their name for the time of life they commonly erupt into a person’s mouth, between the ages of 17 and 25, once called the “Age of Wisdom”. Not everyone has wisdom teeth and those who do sometimes do not have a full set of four wisdom teeth either. Recent research has shown that as many as 25% of people are missing at least one third molar.
While it is possible for wisdom teeth to erupt problem free, their position in the mouth is in an area that is challenging to clean and makes it difficult for many patients to maintain proper health of the teeth and associated gum tissue.
Even fully erupted and healthy wisdom teeth require regular professional cleanings, annual checkups, and periodic x-rays.
Wisdom teeth are impacted if they do not have the room to grow in naturally or are unable to erupt through the gums. Impacted or fully erupted wisdom teeth may need to be extracted due to periodontal disease, gum infections, damage to adjacent teeth, or if a cyst or tumor forms.
Ideally, wisdom teeth should be removed before they cause any problems and when root development is 30 to 50% complete. This usually occurs between the ages of 15 to 18.
The amount of time needed to perform wisdom tooth extractions varies from patient to patient, as everyone’s wisdom teeth are different. In many cases, an uncomplicated extraction of all four third molars can be performed in less than an hour. Removing wisdom teeth is usually done as an outpatient procedure using intravenous conscious sedation (IVCS) in an oral and maxillofacial surgeon’s office.
After getting your wisdom teeth out, it takes a while for healing to take place. Rest the day of surgery and avoid using a straw for at least 5-7 days. Strenuous activity should be avoided for at least a week after surgery. Patients should also take care to brush their teeth gently, avoid any vigorous rinsing, and avoid smoking during the healing process. Although full tooth extraction healing can take up to 8 weeks, many patients are able to resume normal activities the day after surgery and can return to a normal life within a week or two.
After getting your wisdom teeth removed, you should start with water to see if your stomach can tolerate the re-introduction of nourishment. Once water is tolerated, you can advance your diet as tolerated, slowly working your way up to more solid foods, while avoiding foods that are hard, spicy, or difficult to chew. It’s smart to plan what to eat after wisdom tooth removal before the procedure and to have those foods on hand during your recovery.
Alveolar osteitis, commonly called dry socket, is a surgical condition that can occur after having a tooth extracted. A dry socket happens when the blood clot is dislodged from the site of a tooth extraction, exposing the bone and the nerves. This can result in significant discomfort. To lower the risk of dry socket and avoid symptoms, refrain from vigorous rinsing in the mouth, gently brush near the extraction site, and do not use a straw for at least 5-7 days. If you are a smoker, stop smoking before surgery, and avoid it during your recovery.
Wisdom teeth do not grow back after they are removed, but it is possible for a patient to have supernumerary or extra teeth, also known as Hyperdontia. Supernumerary teeth can occur anywhere in the mouth from incisors to canines, to molars.Although the condition is uncommon patients will often know ahead of time whether they will have to worry about extra wisdom teeth because they should be visible on preliminary dental x-rays.