Wisdom tooth extraction is a common surgical procedure many people experience in their lives. It involves the removal of one or more ‘wisdom teeth’ that are four adult permanent teeth and are located at the very back corners of the mouth.
Why are they called ‘wisdom teeth’?
They are referred to as ‘wisdom teeth’ as we develop them later in life, or with experience and wisdom. Historians suggest that Aristotle came up with the name.
For oral surgeons though, they are referred to as third molars.
Why do we have wisdom teeth?
Researchers believe that our wisdom teeth are an evolutionary feature we have. Our ancestors ate lots of hard nuts, crunchy leaves and uncooked, tough meat, so they needed more teeth to get the job done.
Today though, much of our food is cooked and we eat in smaller portions (due to utensils) and over time the wisdom teeth become redundant in our mouths.
How do they grow?
Just like any other teeth, they are formed after we start losing our ‘baby teeth’ when we are young. The third molar is that last of our permanent teeth to grow. They may or may not erupt to the surface of the gum line like other teeth.
Why are they such a problem?
Wisdom teeth often cause crowding of other teeth or can become impacted and create mouth pain. Oral surgeons will often recommend wisdom tooth extraction even if an impacted tooth is not causing any pain.
When do wisdom teeth appear?
As mentioned, they are the final of the permanent teeth to appear and most people see them erupt to the surface from ages 17 to 25. Some fortunate people never develop wisdom teeth, and other fortunate ones grow wisdom teeth that erupt normally and don’t cause pain, become impacted or crowd other teeth.
What signs might there be that I need to get my wisdom teeth removed?
Generally speaking if someone is older than 17 years and experiences any of the following symptoms, they should see their dentist who may then refer them for a consultation with an oral surgeon. If someone experiences these then it’s important to act fast:
- Pain around the back of the mouth
- Food constantly getting stuck around the wisdom teeth
- Gum disease around molars
- Tooth decay (cavities) on a partially erupted wisdom tooth
- Develops a cyst (fluid-filled sac) around one or more wisdom teeth
- Gets sustained damage to nearby teeth or surrounding bone.
How Are Wisdom Teeth Removed?
Either a dentist or an oral surgeon extracts wisdom teeth. If a patient only has one or two wisdom teeth, that are fully erupted, not impacted and there’s no sign of infection, a dentist may decide to remove the teeth themselves. If it’s no more complicated a procedure than regular tooth extraction, a dentist may perform the procedure.
If the removal is more complicated because the wisdom tooth/teeth sit below the gum line, are impacted or there is sign of an infection then an oral surgeon will likely be needed to do the procedure.
An x-ray is performed to make this determination.
Local anesthetic is used by the dentist for the area where the tooth is to be extracted. Sometimes further sedation is given to relax a patient.
A small incision is made at the site of the tooth. From there it is extracted via a number of techniques that are aimed to minimize any surrounding nerve damage and post surgery pain.
If an oral surgeon is to perform wisdom teeth extraction, a general anesthetic is given, as it is a medical procedure performed in a hospital. This is more than likely a quick same-day procedure, but patients need someone to take you home while the anesthetic wears off. Pain medication is often prescribed for the days after the surgery. Patients also won’t be able to eat solid foods, and regular salt water rinses will help prevent infection post surgery.