Removal of Wisdom Teeth
Wisdom teeth, officially known as third molars, are usually the last teeth to develop. They are located in the very back of your mouth, next to your second–or twelve year–molars. They usually complete development between the ages of 15 and 20, a time traditionally associated with the onset of maturity and the attainment of Wisdom, hence their popular name.
What is an Impacted Tooth?
A tooth becomes impacted when there is a lack of space in the dental arch and its growth and eruption are prevented by overlying gum, bone or another tooth. A tooth may be partially impacted, which means a portion of it has broken through the gum, or totally impacted and unable to break through the gum at all.
How Serious is an Impacted Tooth?
Impacted and partially impacted teeth can be painful and lead to infection. They may also crowd or damage adjacent teeth or roots.
More serious problems may occur if the sac surrounding the impacted tooth becomes filled with fluid and enlarges to form a cyst. As the cyst grows it may hollow out the jaw and permanently damage adjacent teeth, the surrounding bone and nerves. Rarely, if a cyst is not treated, a tumor may develop fom its walls and a more serious surgical procedure may be required to remove it.
Must the Tooth Come Out if it Hasn’t Caused Any Problems Yet?
Not all problems related to third molars are painful or visible. Damage can occur without your being aware of it.
As wisdom teeth grow, their roots become longer, the teeth become more difficult to remove and complications become more likely. In addition, partially or totally impacted wisdom teeth are more likely to cause problems as patients age.
No one can predict when third molar complications will occur, but when they do, the circumstances can be much more painful and the teeth more difficult to treat. It is estimated that about 85% of third molars will eventually need to be removed.
When Should I Have My Wisdom Teeth Removed?
It isn’t wise to wait until your wisdom teeth start to bother you. In general, earlier removal of wisdom teeth results in a less complicated healing process. It is strongly recommended that wisdom teeth be removed by the time the patient is a young adult in order to prevent future problems and to ensure optimal healing. Research has shown that older patients may be at a greater risk for disease, including periodontitis, in the tissues surrounding the third molars and adjacent teeth. Periodontal infections may affect your general health.
What Happens During Surgery?
Before surgery, your Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon will discuss with you what to expect. This is a good time to ask questions or express your concerns. It is especially important to let the doctor know about any illness you have and medications you are taking.
The relative ease with which a wisdom tooth may be removed depends on several conditions, including the position of the tooth and root development. Partially or totally impacted wisdom teeth may require a more involved surgical procedure.
Most wisdom tooth extractions are performed in the oral and maxillofacial surgery office under local anesthesia, intravenous sedation or general anesthesia. Your Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon will discuss the anesthetic option that is right for you.
What Happens after Surgery?
Following surgery, you may experience some swelling and mild discomfort, which are part of the normal healing process. Cold compresses may help decrease the swelling, and medication prescribed by your Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon can help manage the discomfort. You may be instructed to modify your diet following surgery and later progress to more normal foods.