Third molars, or so-called wisdom teeth, often get a bad rap. That’s probably because people talk about them mostly in the context of people getting them removed. For many patients, wisdom tooth extraction is the only surgical dental procedure they have ever experienced.
But wisdom teeth themselves aren’t necessarily bad. In fact for some patients, they’re just like other teeth. So what’s the big deal with wisdom teeth anyway? And, why do so many people have them extracted? Let’s take a look at some of the most common questions we hear about this infamous set of teeth.
Third molars are often called wisdom teeth because they tend to emerge in your “wiser” years—that is between 17 and 21 years of age. Most people have just four wisdom teeth, one on either side of the upper and lower jaw. Others have fewer. One study estimates that between 5 and 37 percent of people have three or fewer wisdom teeth. Still other patients have a double set, or eight total wisdom teeth!
While we don’t know exactly why this extra set of teeth exists, some people think wisdom teeth are like the body’s insurance policy. In days when modern dental care didn’t exist, these third molars might have served as backup teeth. Our ancestors probably relied more on their back teeth for eating. But today, the average diet doesn’t contain lots of hard, crunchy foods.
All this to say, wisdom teeth no longer serve an important purpose. Kind of like an appendix, you’ll be just fine without them. In fact, removing wisdom teeth often offers more benefits than risks.
Most people’s mouths have just enough room for 28 adult teeth. So, when wisdom teeth arrive, there’s often no space left for them to go. If they do poke through the gums, wisdom teeth can sometimes crowd existing teeth, leading to pain, damage to surrounding teeth, and/or misalignment.
Sometimes, wisdom teeth become impacted, or stuck beneath the gums. This extra pressure can create pain in the jaw and other problems. If the teeth do break through the gums, impacted wisdom teeth often come in at odd angles, making it difficult to clean and floss properly.
Pain, infection, decay, and damage—or preventing those—are all good reasons to undergo wisdom tooth removal. Your dentist may recommend a wait-and-see approach, if your teeth haven’t come in yet, or advocate for a more proactive, surgical plan to avoid any short- or long-term issues.
We offer wisdom teeth extractions right here in our beautiful Williamsburg office. Alternatively, depending on your preference and the position of your teeth, your dentist might refer you to an oral surgeon instead.
The entire procedure usually requires no more than an hour or so, depending on the number of teeth you’ll have removed. After the extraction, your dentist or surgeon will stitch your gums closed. Unlike other types of stitches, these will dissolve in a few days and won’t need to be removed. Your dentist may also give you a few gauze pads to keep the area clean and dry.
Patience is the best medicine when it comes to recovery. You’ll probably notice some pain and swelling in the first few days after the procedure, but these can usually be managed with ice packs and medication. Follow your doctor’s recommendation
Be sure to avoid anything that can irritate your sensitive tissue. Stick to soft foods, like applesauce or rice, for the first several days. Also, drink plenty of fluids as these can speed up recovery. You’ll want to avoid drinking through a straw as the pressure can loosen the clots at your surgical site.
For most people, healing from wisdom tooth extraction is uneventful, if a little uncomfortable. Complications are rare but they can be serious if they’re not addressed. If you suspect you have developed a dry socket, a painful condition that sometimes occurs after a tooth extraction, or if you notice signs of a fever or infection, call your dentist as soon as possible.
Questions about wisdom teeth removal? Let us know. As always, we’re happy to review all your options and find the best treatment path for you. Call our office or visit our website to schedule an appointment.