Wisdom Teeth

The Final Four Teeth

Wisdom teeth, also called third molars, are the final four permanent teeth to erupt through the gumline behind the existing molars. Although most permanent teeth arrive between the ages of 6 and 12, wisdom teeth often come in between ages 17 to 25. Third molars are called wisdom teeth because they usually come in as adolescents mature into adulthood—“the age of wisdom.”

By Katherine Ladny Mitchell

While some people have no trouble with their wisdom teeth, most people don’t have enough room in their jaws to accommodate these large molars. Wisdom teeth tend to come in at odd angles and may become lodged against existing teeth or remain embedded within the jaw. Dentists and oral surgeons call wisdom teeth that are unable to fully enter the mouth “impacted.”

According to the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, 9 out of 10 people will have at least one impacted wisdom tooth in their lifetime. Impacted wisdom teeth are known to cause pain, headaches, jaw swelling and tender gums. Untreated, they may also misalign and damage existing teeth, lead to jaw cysts, and cause infection, tooth decay and gum disease.

Even if someone does not have symptoms with their wisdom teeth, a dentist or oral surgeon may still recommend extraction, or surgical removal, to prevent future pain and complications. If wisdom teeth require removal, a patient will most likely be referred to an oral and maxillofacial surgeon for the procedure.

Extraction: How it Works

Prior to surgery, a surgeon will administer anesthesia, either in the form of a local anesthesia injection near the wisdom tooth, usually supplemented with intravenous or inhaled medications to decrease or eliminate the awareness of the procedure.

During the procedure, a surgeon will make an incision in the gums and surrounding bone to provide access to the impacted tooth. Then, he or she will remove the tooth altogether or in small sections and stitch the wound closed.

After the procedure, patients may experience some pain, swelling and bleeding near the surgery site. Using cold packs on the face, prescription and over the counter painkillers and clean gauze can alleviate these symptoms. Oral surgeons will normally advise patients to avoid chewing hard foods and brushing teeth near the surgical site for the first 24 hours following surgery. Most patients return to full activity within one week.