What Are Wisdom Teeth?

Wisdom teeth, or third molars, are the last teeth to form in a person’s upper and lower jaw. They are the most posterior teeth in the jawbones. Third molars came to be more commonly known as “wisdom teeth” since they are the last teeth to appear in a person’s jaw, at a time when people are wiser.

Why are wisdom teeth removed?

Wisdom teeth are removed for a number of different reasons. Reasons for removal can be broken down into two different categories- prevention of disease or treatment of disease. Many wisdom teeth are high risk for causing tooth decay and or bone loss on themselves as well as the teeth in front of them. In addition, they can cause infections in the gums and cheek surrounding them. Finally, cysts or jaw tumors can develop around impacted wisdom teeth. These can be destructive to the jawbone and adjacent teeth and can sometimes require major surgery in order to treat. Ideally wisdom teeth are extracted prior to the development of any of these problems as a preventative measure. However, many times wisdom teeth are extracted after one or more of these problems have occurred.

What does it mean when wisdom teeth are impacted?

Impacted wisdom teeth are teeth that have failed to completely erupt through the gums into the correct position where they completely bite against the opposing tooth. Wisdom tooth impaction is caused by bone and/or the gums and cheek overlying the tooth preventing it from moving into the proper position. Impacted teeth are often high risk for causing tooth decay, bone loss or infections because of the difficulty or inability to clean the areas around them.

Do all wisdom teeth have to be removed?

No, not all wisdom teeth have to be removed. Wisdom teeth that have erupted completely into the arch and are not causing pain and do not have any decay or infection around them often don’t have to be removed.

What type of anesthesia is used during wisdom teeth extractions?

Wisdom teeth can be removed using local anesthesia only or under IV sedation. This is discussed and decided between the oral surgeon and the patient during the consultation appointment to determine the most appropriate form of anesthesia.

How long is the recovery period afterwards? 

The recovery time can vary, but I tell most patients that they should anticipate missing 1-2 days of work and/or school afterwards. Most patients can return to physical exercise and organized sports after 5-7 days. Most patients come in for a one week follow up visit to ensure that everything is healing well.

What are the risks of wisdom teeth removal?

Wisdom tooth extraction is one of the most commonly performed surgical procedures and is generally very safe and predictable. Serious complications are quite rare. Like any other surgical procedure, pain, bleeding, swelling and infection are possible. However, when performed by an experienced oral and maxillofacial surgeon these can be minimized.

What is the ideal age to have wisdom teeth removed?

The ideal age for wisdom teeth removal can vary from patient to patient since tooth development is different from person to person. This can vary from the teenage years to the twenties. The only way to know is to have an examination and radiograph taken to determine the stage of development of the third molars and whether or not they are at risk for pathology or if there is active pathology present. I recommend that patients in their teens have a consultation and radiograph performed to determine if or when they should be extracted.