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FAQs about Wisdom Teeth

Wednesday - May 29th, 2019
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Did you know 9 out of 10 people will need to have at least one wisdom tooth removed? That means if you (or someone you love) were told it’s time to get wisdom teeth removed, you’re not alone! We completely understand if you have questions about your wisdom teeth since technically getting them removed is a surgery-although a very common outpatient procedure. You might even be wondering if it’s really necessary for you to get them removed if they aren’t causing any issues. We gathered together some of our most frequently asked questions along with the answers to them to help you understand everything there is to know about wisdom teeth, wisdom teeth surgery and recovery from the surgery.

Wisdom Teeth

What are wisdom teeth?
As your third set of molars (flatter teeth used to grind food down), wisdom teeth are the last permanent teeth that will break through the gum line for most people. Typically, there are four wisdom teeth (a pair on the top and a pair on the bottom) and they erupt behind the first and second set of molars. There are people who never develop wisdom teeth and some who get lucky with more than four!

When do most people get their wisdom teeth?
When a person is about 12 years old, wisdom teeth can be seen on an X-ray but they are still below the gum line. They won’t erupt (or try to) until a person reaches between 17 and 25 years of age.

I was told my wisdom teeth are impacted. What does that mean?
Quite simply, if your wisdom teeth are impacted, they are just unable to move into proper position due to other teeth or bone preventing it. When a jaw can’t accommodate extra teeth, they are caught under the gums and can create pain and pressure.

Why do wisdom teeth need to be removed?
Not everyone gets their wisdom teeth extracted, but about 85 percent of wisdom teeth will need to be removed according to the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons. The American Dental Association recommends wisdom teeth removal if they:

Have impacted teeth
Move other teeth and make them crooked or cause crowding
Grow in an undesirable position such as tilted forward or sideways
Contribute to jaw pain
Only partially erupt
Continually get infections or tooth decay (food and bacteria can get trapped when wisdom teeth partially erupt)
Don’t have room to erupt (average human mouth can accommodate 28 to 32 teeth)

On rare occasions, cysts (a fluid-filled sac) or tumors can form in the soft tissue that can cause damage to the jaw and surrounding teeth.

Why do we have wisdom teeth anyway if most people get them removed?
It might just be that humans have outgrown our need for wisdom teeth (similar to our appendix) over evolutionary time. Our third molars were likely more useful to process our ancestor’s diet and to withstand the excessive wear to teeth from a diet that consisted of leaves, roots, meats and nuts. Since we use modern eating utensils to help cut our food and cook food which makes it softer, we don’t need the same chewing power as we used to. Plus, the human jaw has gotten smaller over history.

Does everyone need to get their wisdom teeth removed?
If wisdom teeth grow in completely and remain free from cavities and pain, they don’t need to be removed. It’s important to continue to monitor wisdom teeth at regular exams, dental cleanings and through X-rays to be sure there aren’t changes.

What if I don’t want to get my wisdom teeth removed?
If your dental professional recommended wisdom teeth removal for your oral health, it’s important to discuss with them why you don’t want your wisdom teeth removed. Due to their location in the back of your mouth, it’s often hard to keep the area clean. Take special care with brushing and flossing the area.

Why are they called wisdom teeth?
While we don’t know for sure when third molars began to be called wisdom teeth, most people believe the nickname started because wisdom teeth erupt when a child is older-and presumably-wiser.

Wisdom Teeth Surgery

When should people have wisdom teeth surgery?
It is recommended that wisdom teeth get removed when the roots are about two-thirds formed (when patients are between 15 and 18 years old). Patients in their late teens or early 20s often have fewer complications, shorter recovery times and less challenging surgeries than patients who are 35 years and older.

Who is qualified to remove wisdom teeth?
A maxillofacial surgeon or professional dentist is qualified to remove wisdom teeth.

How do dentists know wisdom teeth need to be removed?
After an oral exam and a review of X-rays, your dental provider will be able to determine if wisdom teeth should be removed. Monitoring wisdom teeth is a part of regular dental exams when patients are 12 years of age and older.

How much will it cost to get wisdom teeth removed?
The cost of wisdom teeth surgery depends on how many teeth are moved, what type of anesthesia is used, if they have erupted and more. Many dental offices offer payment plans for wisdom teeth surgery and several dental insurance plans will cover a portion of the surgery.

Am I too old to have wisdom teeth surgery?
Even if you still have your wisdom teeth and you are past your teens, your dental professional might still recommend extraction if you’re experiencing issues caused by them still being in your mouth.

What should I expect from wisdom teeth surgery?
The outpatient procedure where wisdom teeth are removed is often very important to ensure the long-term health of teeth and mouths. Depending on your needs, your provider will numb the area with a local anesthetic. If you need more than one wisdom tooth extracted or have anxiety, your provider might recommend general anesthesia so you can sleep through the procedure. If you do have general anesthesia, your provider will request that you don’t eat or drink anything past midnight the night before surgery. Actual surgery typically lasts just 45 minutes, but the entire process can take several hours. This includes your check-in and post-surgery assessments.

Recovery After Wisdom Teeth Surgery

What should I expect after wisdom teeth surgery?
You will likely have swelling, pain, bruising and some bleeding after you get your wisdom teeth removed. It will take anywhere from two to three days up to a week to feel back to 100%, but everyone responds differently. Your dental professional will give you a prescription for pain medicine or will advise regarding over-the-counter pain relief suggestions. Take it easy for the next 24 to 72 hours.

What are some tips to help recover from wisdom tooth surgery?
Be careful to not bite your lip, cheek or tongue since your mouth will be numb at first.
Continue to bite gently on the gauze pads until bleeding stops. When a gauze pad becomes soaked with blood, replace it. Bleeding should stop within 24 hours. Call your dental professional if it doesn’t.
Lying flat can prolong bleeding; prop your head with pillows.
For the first 24 hours, apply ice packs for 15 to 20 minutes at a time to reduce swelling.
Do not use a straw for two to three days! This can delay healing and cause a dry socket.
After 24 hours, you can rinse your mouth with warm salt water. Do this several times a day to help reduce swelling and promote healing.
Do not BRUSH your teeth for the first 24 hours. Yes, that’s probably the only time your dentist will give you a pass on brushing and flossing.

What to eat after wisdom teeth surgery
A soft diet is recommended after wisdom teeth surgery. Here are some suggestions:
Soft-serve ice cream
Mashed potatoes
Broth-based soup (but nothing too hot)
Instant oatmeal

Avoid these foods after wisdom teeth surgery:
Alcohol and coffee for the first 24 hours
Crunchy, chewy or spicy foods for at least a week
Acidic foods
Solid foods

What are dry sockets?
A dry socket is a painful inflammation that can develop in the open tooth socket of the jawbone after a tooth has been extracted. Although it can happen when any tooth is removed, it’s most common with the removal of wisdom teeth.

What causes dry sockets?
When the blood clot disintegrates or is dislodged from the extraction site, bone and nerve endings can be exposed and can cause a dry socket. Typically, dry sockets cause intense pain that can extend up to the ear and they can smell bad. The pain can last several days.

Women suffer from dry sockets more than men. The culprit is believed to be the estrogen hormone. Women who take birth control pills are twice as likely to get dry sockets as those who don’t. For a better chance of avoiding a dry socket, women who take birth control pills should schedule surgery at the end of their menstrual cycle (days 23 to 28).

How to treat dry sockets
Contact your dental professional if you suspect a dry socket. If they determine you do have a dry socket, they will often place a medicated gauze pad or paste into the socket, prescribe an antibiotic to get rid of the infection and give you more pain medicine.

Did we answer all your wisdom teeth questions? If you have a question we didn’t answer, give us a call at 1-800-MONARCH (1-800-666-2724) or contact us online to schedule a wisdom tooth consultation.