It may appear that you have all of your permanent teeth before you hit high school, but not quite. The wisdom teeth, which are the final four back molars to grow into your mouth, don’t appear until you’re nearly an adult! You can expect them to grow in between your 17th and 21st birthday.
These back molars are a bit different than your normal adult teeth. Why? Because wisdom teeth have the high potential to cause serious pain and damage inside your mouth. They must be regularly monitored and evaluated. If your doctor believes wisdom teeth pose a threat to the health or alignment of your other teeth, removal becomes necessary.
What Are Wisdom Teeth?
Wisdom teeth are the third and final set of molars to grow, usually in your late teens or early twenties. They emerge in the four back corners of your mouth, with two on top and two on the bottom.
It’s believed that early humans relied on their wisdom teeth to grind raw plant tissue and other tough foods. So why could they utilize wisdom teeth without any pain or dental problems? Early humans probably had larger jaws that allowed more room for the third molars to grow in comfortably.
Today, the removal of wisdom teeth is so common because most adults experience discomfort, crowding, and difficulties as their final back molars erupt. In fact, five million people have their wisdom teeth removed every year.
Signs Wisdom Teeth Are Causing Trouble
Wisdom teeth are known to cause many different problems in your mouth. If there isn’t enough space in the back of your mouth for wisdom teeth to come to the surface, they erupt in the wrong position. Signs of wisdom teeth complications include these symptoms:
- Misaligned wisdom teeth trap food and cavity-causing bacteria
- Pain, swelling, and stiffness in the jaw
- Changes to surrounding teeth, including shifting and crowding
- Damage to roots of nearby teeth or bone
- Unpleasant taste or odor in your mouth
- Difficulty opening your mouth
- Tender or bleeding gums
This is one reason it’s so important to visit your Vista dentist every six months. Periodic dental x-rays reveal the condition of wisdom teeth and surrounding tissue. Most dentists suggest wisdom teeth removal before a problem even forms in order to eliminate the potential of a more painful and complex procedure down the road.
What Are Impacted Wisdom Teeth?
Your dentist may refer to your wisdom teeth as “impacted” if they don’t have enough room to emerge through the gums normally. Imagine a tree trying to grow through soil that’s already covered in plants. The only way the tree can break through the ground is to push aside and damage everything around it.
This is exactly what happens when impacted wisdom teeth try to break through the gums. They may get stuck in any of the following situations:
- Grow at an angle toward other teeth
- Emerge “lying down” within the jawbone
- Stay trapped within the jawbone
All of these situations cause pain, discomfort, and serious risks to your oral health. If your dentist finds any signs that your wisdom teeth may be impacted, it’s best to have your wisdom teeth removed as soon as possible.
About Removal and Recovery
The wisdom teeth extraction process is a safe, standard procedure performed across the country every day. Here are the steps you can expect:
- Local anesthesia or conscious sedation prevent pain, discomfort, and anxiety
- Your dental specialist removes the tissue and bone surrounding all four wisdom teeth
- Wisdom teeth are extracted from their sockets
- Stitches close each extraction site
If you opt to use oral conscious sedation like laughing gas, you won’t remember your wisdom teeth removal surgery or feel any pain.
Recovery lasts about three to five days. You can expect slight bleeding and swelling during the first 24 hours, and your jaw may feel stiff after the anesthesia wears off. Fortunately, standard over-the-counter pain medications can reduce your symptoms and provide relief.
Use these other tips to optimize your healing process after wisdom teeth removal:
- If antibiotics are prescribed, use as recommended
- Eat soft foods
- Avoid spicy foods, tobacco, and alcohol
- Rest and give the area time to heal
Gum tissue heals after three to four weeks. You’ll feel as good as new!
What Are Dry Sockets?
Dry sockets are the most common complication of wisdom teeth removal. A dry socket develops when a blood clot in the surgical site becomes dislodged and leaves portions of nerves and bones exposed. This is a painful throbbing sensation that quickly leads to inflammation and infection.
Most dry sockets occur between 3-5 days after surgery and can last up to a week before healing. The good news, at least, is that dry sockets are easy to treat. Your dentist will clean the socket, pack it with gauze and medicated gel, and advise you to clean it at home with saltwater.
You can reduce your risk of dry sockets by avoiding tobacco, carefully caring for your mouth after surgery, and following all of your dentist’s recommendations.
Learn More From Your Dentist
Only your dentist can evaluate wisdom teeth and help you determine whether they need to be removed. You can trust your wisdom teeth care and removal to Dr. Miller at Vista Dental Care and Specialty Center in Vista, California. Dr. Miller specializes in oral and maxillofacial surgery and has more than 20 years of experience providing superior and reliable dental care.
Call (760) 630-5000 to schedule your appointment at Vista Dental Care today. Don’t give your wisdom teeth the extra time they need to cause trouble in your mouth!