Most people get their wisdom teeth, or third molars, between the ages of 16 and 25.
Sometimes they can cause significant pain and discomfort, especially when they become impacted. An impacted wisdom tooth occurs when the tooth fails to properly erupt. This generally happens because the tooth grows in sideways or horizontally and cannot break through the surface of the jawbone and gum. The impaction can happen in the jawbone itself or in the soft tissue of the gums.
This can lead to crowding of other teeth. A wisdom tooth that is only partially erupted can also cause complications including infection, gum disease or tooth decay. Dentists generally recommend the removal of wisdom teeth when symptoms of impaction begin to present.
How Are Wisdom Teeth Removed?
An affected tooth can usually be removed right in the dentist’s office; however, if multiple extractions are required or if complications are expected, the dentist may refer a patient to an oral surgeon. In extreme cases, the surgery may need to be performed in a hospital.
The procedure will begin with the application of a local anesthetic. This will numb the area and prevent the patient from feeling any pain during the procedure. For difficult extractions, a general anesthesia may be used. Under general anesthesia, the patient will be completely unconscious.
Once the chosen anesthetic has taken effect, the dentist or surgeon will make an incision in the gum line, then proceed to remove any bone covering the area of extraction.
After the tooth is fully removed, the gums will be stitched closed. The patient will be given a prescription for painkillers and may be put on antibiotics to help prevent infection.
Recovering From Wisdom Tooth Extraction
Pain and discomfort is common after the removal of wisdom teeth. Pain medication should be administered according to instructions. Swelling can be minimized by the application of ice packs to the cheek for 30 minutes at a time.
Bleeding is expected for the first 24 hours after surgery. This can be minimized by biting down on clean gauze pads to promote clotting.
Patients should follow their doctor’s recommendations regarding food and drink. Using a straw will be forbidden for the first few days, as the suction can cause blood clots to dislodge.
Refrain from smoking or chewing tobacco for at least 24 hours. Brush carefully and avoid touching the affected area.
Complications related to the removal of wisdom teeth are extremely rare; however, patients should call their doctor or dentist immediately if bleeding does not stop after 24 hours or is profuse, if pain becomes unbearable, or in the cases of extreme swelling or sudden fever.