Wisdom Teeth

Wisdom teeth, or third molars, are the last teeth to develop and appear in your mouth. They come in between the ages of 17 and 25, a time of life that has been called the "Age of Wisdom."

Wisdom teeth may not need to be extracted if they grow in completely and are functional, painless, cavity-free, disease-free and in a hygienic environment with healthy gum tissue. They do, however, require regular, professional cleaning, annual check-ups and periodic X-rays to monitor for any changes.

The worst thing to do is ignore your wisdom teeth!

When a tooth doesn't fully grow in, it's "impacted"—usually unable to break through the gums because there isn't enough room.

An impacted wisdom tooth can damage neighboring teeth or become infected. Because it's in an area that’s hard to clean, it can also invite bacteria that lead to gum disease. Oral bacteria can also travel through your bloodstream and lead to infections and illnesses that affect your heart, kidneys and other organs. In some cases, a cyst or tumor can form around the base of the impacted tooth, which can lead to more serious problems as it hollows out the jaw and damages surrounding nerves, teeth and other parts of your mouth and face.

Generally, wisdom teeth should be surgically removed when there are:

  • Infections and/or periodontal (gum) disease

  • Cavities that can’t be restored

  • Cysts, tumors or other pathologies

  • Damage to neighboring teeth

Symptoms of Impacted Wisdom Teeth

Impacted wisdom teeth symptoms can vary from person to person. For some, there are no symptoms at all, with the impacted teeth only being discovered via an X-ray. But for many, these hidden teeth can cause serious trouble, including infections that lead to:

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  • Jaw pain

  • Swollen, tender or bleeding gums

  • Bad breath

  • Discomfort when opening mouth

  • Unpleasant tastes in the mouth

Impacted wisdom teeth also can cause a variety of other problems, including tooth decay, cysts and excessive pain. If any of these symptoms sound familiar, it is vital to visit an oral and maxillofacial surgeon so he or she can assess the situation and plan appropriate treatment.

Wisdom teeth can be impacted and show no symptoms, but it is important to remember that “pain-free” does not mean “disease-free.”

How to Treat Impacted Wisdom Teeth

Because impacted wisdom teeth are difficult to care for while inside the gums, surgery is often necessary to remove the problem teeth and prevent future issues before they happen.

Wisdom teeth surgery is usually an outpatient procedure performed by an oral and maxillofacial surgeon using anesthesia.

Though full tooth extraction healing time can take up to six weeks, most patients experience pain and bleeding for only a few days after extraction. Pain medication and cold compresses help lessen pain and swelling.

While healing, patients will need to be conscious of what they eat after surgery, favoring soft foods that will not irritate their swollen gums.

It is often better to have wisdom teeth extracted when a patient is younger, as the third molars have incomplete root systems and the surrounding jawbone is softer.

The results of wisdom tooth removal are permanent. If a patient decides to keep his or her wisdom teeth, the teeth must be monitored regularly by an OMS, and X-rays should be taken annually to ensure there is no health risk.

If you have concerns about your wisdom teeth, please contact us to schedule a consult.

For more information, please visit the website of AAOMS (American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons) at myoms.org.