What are wisdom teeth?
Wisdom teeth are the last set of teeth that grow in an individual. They’re actually 3rd molars and they usually grow during late teen years to mid-20s. They’re called “wisdom teeth” because the period in which they start to grow is during the “Age of Wisdom” of a person. Some people, however, start getting their wisdom teeth during later years, and some don’t even get wisdom teeth at all; they are the most commonly missing tooth. Wisdom teeth pop up behind all your other teeth and if your jaws allow and you have them present you will get all four come through. Because there is less space at the back, they are the most likely tooth to become impacted, which means they don’t come through in line as you would hope.
Are wisdom teeth always painful?
No, they are just another tooth. Wisdom teeth can get painful when:
- They haven’t successfully erupted through the gums.
- They grow at an angle, impacting the other teeth or cheek.
- They get decay in them.
- The gum lying over them gets infected.
When the wisdom teeth have only partially erupted, this creates a pocket of gum that easily traps food and bacteria. This leads to infection, which in turn, results in pain and swelling. Luckily, this type of problem is fairly easily treatable using rinses, antibiotics and painkillers. Repeated infections however will mean the tooth needs to be extracted. It is also common for people to get decay in their wisdom teeth as given their position, they are very hard to clean. This decay progresses like it would in any other tooth eventually affecting the nerve. Sometimes, when there isn’t enough room for the wisdom teeth to grow properly, they grow at an angle instead. This is what we refer to as impacted wisdom teeth and they can be impacted in various directions. They are more likely to give problems if they have come through the gum part way. If they remain contained fully in bone- they can still give trouble but generally they are slightly less likely to cause problems. If you notice pain, aching, discomfort or any gum irritation it is important to see a dentist. It is also important to bear in mind that it is normal for you to feel some discomfort/sensation when the wisdom teeth are starting to grow or move or are coming through the gum- just as a child would experience teething. This wisdom tooth pain usually comes and goes, until the wisdom teeth are fully erupted in the correct position or come to rest in a less than ideal but balanced position.
How do I know whether I have wisdom teeth and if they’re erupting in a correct position?
Well, your wisdom tooth is your third molar so if you can count 3 molars then you have your wisdom teeth through. If you can see part of a tooth at the back then you know you have them but only your dentist will be able to tell you the position and what should be done with them. A visit to your Maroubra dentist, will quickly determine whether you have wisdom teeth and if they’re erupting properly or where they are lying. An X ray called an OPG is almost always required, CT can also be used and is very useful for determining the relationship to other important structures in your mouth, especially if you are going to have them extracted. The growth of the wisdom teeth will be monitored and advice given on what best to do with them. It’s generally pretty obvious early on if they are likely to be useful or cause problems.
How do I know whether I need to have my wisdom teeth extracted?
Are the teeth going to be useful to you? Are they likely to cause problems themselves or with other teeth nearby? These are the questions that must be answered. If you get infections and swelling, or persistent pain that won’t go away with home treatments, then come and see us in Maroubra- we will look after you. There are also instances where your dentist will recommend pulling out your wisdom teeth even though they are not currently causing problems. This is to avoid future issues which the wisdom teeth look like to cause. As a general rule it’s better to extract wisdom teeth if possible under the age of 25 for a few reasons: the wisdom teeth’s roots are still not completely developed making it easier; bone is more spongy and young people generally have a faster recovery and healing time with less complications.
How do I prepare for the wisdom tooth extraction?
Wisdom teeth can be super simple or quite difficult; your dentist will advise you on the examination- what they expect the procedure to be like. There are very different protocols if you are having a general anaesthetic versus having a local anaesthetic. If you are having General Anaesthetic- for longer, more complicated procedures, or if you are dental phobic- absolutely petrified; you will not be able to do any activity that requires focus (such as driving or operating machinery) for 48 hours, so someone will need to drop you off and pick you up. Ask a friend or relative to accompany you so you have someone to assist you afterwards. It’s nice to have someone with you to look after you after the surgery anyway. As for the time you’ll need to be off work, ask your dentist’s advice. If the surgery goes smooth, you may only need to take a day off. We book a lot of procedures on a Friday to give the patient the weekend to recover. You can need a day, a few days or a few weeks for heavily impacted teeth where bruising and swelling, aka a hamster face may result. Other types of sedation may require assistance, but a very simple wisdom tooth under local anaesthetic- you should be good to go home yourself afterwards. It will be just like having any other tooth out; normally this is the case for easy upper wisdom teeth.
What should I expect after having my wisdom tooth extracted?
Your healing time from the extraction depends on your body’s general capability to recover and whether the surgery was easy and uncomplicated. However, you may experience some bleeding or oozing for the first 24 hours–this is a normal step in the process. Your dentist will ask you to put pressure where the wisdom tooth was- to encourage blood clotting and healing will help with a gauze, if it bleeds heavily once you have left the office. You can experience some swelling for the next 48 hours on the area where the wisdom teeth was, if it was a surgical procedure. If your dentist used stitches that don’t dissolve on their own, we will get you back to have them removed in a week. Antibiotics may also be prescribed if your medical history makes you likely to be susceptible to infection.
What aftercare steps should I take after having my wisdom tooth extracted?
Below are some points on how to take care of your healing gums after wisdom tooth extraction:
- Take pain killers such as ibuprofen or paracetamol for minor pain unless there is a reason why you shouldn’t. If you need more potent pain medications, your dentist will need to prescribe them.
- Maintain a soft diet until the anaesthesia has worn off.
- Avoid alcohol as this opens up blood vessels.
- Practice good oral hygiene but avoid having your toothbrush getting in contact with the tooth adjacent to where the wisdom tooth was for the next couple of days. Do this until it is comfortable to brush the tooth next to the socket area.
- Rather than using commercial mouth rinses that may irritate the extraction site, rinse with warm salt water instead.
- Be aware of signs of dry socket.
- Do not do any strenuous activity for 24 hours- no exercise, just rest.
- Do not smoke. At least for 3 days! Or a dry socket is much more likely to occur.
- Do not use straw when drinking. This may loosen the blood clot, therefore, delay healing.