Wisdom Teeth: When to Act and What to Expect

It isn’t uncommon for dentists to recommend that patients have their wisdom teeth removed. Why is wisdom teeth removal often necessary, when is the best time to get your wisdom teeth removed, and what can you expect if you decide to get your wisdom teeth removed?

Although the teeth at the front of your mouth often get the most attention, it pays to give attention to your molars—particularly the third set of molars at the very back. These are known as wisdom teeth.

Why You Might Get Your Wisdom Teeth Removed

Many people’s mouths are not large enough to accommodate a third set of molars. Consequently, wisdom teeth may grow at an awkward angle. They may even come in horizontally. As the wisdom teeth grow in, or erupt, they can push against your other teeth, causing misalignment and damage to other teeth. Wisdom teeth may even damage your jaw, nerves, and sinuses.

Occasionally, wisdom teeth do not erupt at all. They may remain stuck within the soft tissue or within the jawbone. When this happens, or when the teeth only partially erupt, they are referred to as impacted.

Impacted wisdom teeth come with their own set of problems. They create openings that can become breeding ground for dangerous bacteria. Impacted teeth may also be more difficult to clean, leading to decay and the discomfort that comes with cavities.

The Best Time to Get Your Wisdom Teeth Removed

Some people do not need to get their wisdom teeth removed. If the wisdom teeth are aligned properly, and you aren’t experiencing any adverse symptoms because of them, removal may not be necessary.

Many dentists recommend removal even when it is not necessary. They do this as a preventive measure, since even wisdom teeth that are not currently a threat to oral health may cause issues later on.

Should you wait until your wisdom teeth start to cause problems before you get them removed? No. This is because the bones in your mouth will harden as you age, making the removal procedure more difficult for the surgeon. Waiting may also cause extra discomfort. You may experience excessive bleeding, severe numbness, or even a little loss of motion in your jaw.

Usually, people who get their wisdom teeth removed are between 17 and 25 years old. It is typically during this time of life that wisdom teeth first erupt. If you are in this age range, you may want to ask about your wisdom teeth during your next visit to the dentist. If you hesitate to go to the dentist because of a lack of dental insurance, you should look into available dental care savings plans that can save you substantial money on dental procedures.

Wisdom Teeth Removal Surgery: What to Expect

Prior to wisdom teeth removal surgery, you’ll have a pre-surgery consultation, during which a dental professional will tell you the details about your surgery.

In some cases, wisdom teeth removal is like any other tooth extraction. However, this is only so when the teeth are fully erupted and easy for the surgeon to access. This type of procedure may only take a few minutes.

When wisdom teeth have not yet erupted—or are only partially erupted—the surgery is more complex. The surgeon will have to create an incision in your gum. Often times, the surgeon will not remove an entire tooth at once. He or she will take a bit of the tooth at a time in order to remove as little bone as possible. After removing the tooth, the surgeon may stitch up the incision.

The type of anesthesia you receive depends on the complexity of the surgery. For some people, local anesthesia is sufficient. For more complicated procedures, sedation anesthesia or even general anesthesia may be necessary.

When you’re speaking with your dentist about the wisdom teeth removal procedure, be sure to discuss cost. A simple extraction for a single wisdom tooth may cost as little as $75 or so, whereas removing an impacted tooth can cost well over $1,000. A dental savings plan can mitigate how much comes out of your pocket.

After the Surgery

When you have your wisdom teeth removed, you’ll receive detailed instructions on what to do after your surgery. You may be told to:

  • Rest. After the surgery, take it easy for the rest of the day. Also, until the wound is fully healed, don’t participate in any strenuous activities that might cause the wound to reopen.
  • Avoid certain beverages. For the first 24 hours after the procedure, you shouldn’t drink alcoholic or caffeinated beverages. Also, don’t drink using a straw for at least a week.
  • Stick to soft foods. Foods like applesauce, yogurt, and mashed potatoes are your best choices for the first 24 hours after the surgery. When you think you’re ready to eat more solid foods, chew with caution.
  • Manage your pain. You may have a prescription for certain pain medications, or your dentist may advise you on which over-the-counter drugs to use.
  • Be careful when you’re cleaning your mouth. You shouldn’t brush or floss for the first 24 hours. After that, be gentle during your oral hygiene routine.
  • Avoid tobacco use for at least 24 hours. Smoking or chewing tobacco can slow down healing.

It’s also important that you keep an eye out for potential complications. If you experience persistent pain, worsening swelling, or a bad taste you can’t get rid of, you should contact your dentist so he or she can look for signs of infection.

It’s common for people who have their wisdom teeth removed to not require a follow-up appointment unless it is for stitch removal. Some surgeons use stitches that will dissolve on their own.

Your wisdom teeth might be harmless, but they might also be a sign of bad things to come. Make an appointment with a dental professional to find out if and when you should have your wisdom teeth removed.

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