Dental Blog

What You Need to Know about Wisdom Teeth Surgery

Wednesday, May 29, 2019
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If you or someone you love is preparing to get wisdom teeth removed, you’re in good company. According to the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons 9 out of 10 people have at least one impacted wisdom tooth that needs to be extracted. Since getting wisdom teeth removed is considered surgery-albeit a very common outpatient surgery-it’s natural for you to have many questions about your wisdom teeth, the procedure to remove them and what recovery looks like. So, we pulled together some of the most frequently asked questions we get from our patients so you’ll have everything you need to know about getting wisdom teeth removed.

What You Need to Know about Wisdom Teeth

What are wisdom teeth?
Wisdom teeth are the third set of molars-flatter teeth used to grind food down-and the last permanent teeth to erupt for most humans. Most adults get four wisdom teeth-two on the top and two on the bottom behind the first and second set of molars. It is possible to have less than four wisdom teeth, have more than four (called supernumerary wisdom teeth) and some people don’t develop any at all!

Why are they called wisdom teeth?
While we don’t know for sure when third molars began to be called wisdom teeth, most people believe the nickname started because wisdom teeth erupt when a child is older-and presumably-wiser.

When do most people get their wisdom teeth?
Wisdom teeth can typically be seen via X-ray when they are still below the gumline when a patient is about 12 years old. It’s not until someone is between 17 and 25 years old that wisdom teeth either erupt or try to.

I was told my wisdom teeth are impacted. What does that mean?
It means they are trapped! They are unable to move into their proper position in the mouth because of bone or other teeth. Since your jaw can’t accommodate those extra teeth, they are stuck under the gums and can create pressure and pain.

Why do wisdom teeth need to be removed?
Not everyone gets their wisdom teeth extracted, but about 85 percent of wisdom teeth will need to be removed according to the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons. The American Dental Association recommends wisdom teeth removal if they:

Cause crowding of other teeth or move other teeth and make them crooked
Grow in sideways or another undesirable position (often tilted forward)
Only partially erupt
Contribute to jaw pain
Continually get tooth decay or infections (food and bacteria can get trapped when wisdom teeth partially erupt)
Don’t have room to erupt (average human mouth can accommodate 28 to 32 teeth)
Have impacted teeth

On rare occasions, cysts (a fluid-filled sac) or tumors can form in the soft tissue that can cause damage to the jaw and surrounding teeth.

If most people get them removed, why do we have wisdom teeth anyway?
Our third molars were likely more useful to process our ancestor’s diet and to withstand the excessive wear to teeth from a diet that consisted of leaves, roots, meats and nuts. With the advent of modern eating utensils that help cut food and because we cook a lot of our food which makes it softer, we don’t need the same chewing power that was once required. Additionally, the human jaw has gotten smaller over evolutionary history. Many just believe we have outgrown our need for wisdom teeth (similar to our appendix) and they have become functionless due to evolution.

Does everyone need to get their wisdom teeth removed?
Nope. If wisdom teeth grow in completely and remain free from cavities and pain, they don’t need to be removed. Wisdom teeth will need to be monitored at regular exams, dental cleanings and through X-rays to be sure there aren’t changes.

What if I don’t want to get my wisdom teeth removed?
It’s important to consult with your dental professional to discuss why you don’t want your wisdom teeth removed if they recommend doing so for your oral health. Due to their location in the back of your mouth, it’s often hard to keep the area clean. Take special care with brushing and flossing the area.

What You Need to Know about Wisdom Teeth Surgery

How do dentists know wisdom teeth need to be removed?
Your dental provider will need to perform an oral exam and review X-rays to determine if it’s time for some or all your wisdom teeth to be removed. This happens throughout regular dental exams.

Who is qualified to remove wisdom teeth?
A professional dentist or oral and maxillofacial surgeon is qualified to remove wisdom teeth.

How much will it cost to get wisdom teeth removed?
The cost to get wisdom teeth removed depends on each situation. For example, some people might only get one wisdom tooth extracted and might only require local anesthesia while another has five impacted teeth and needs to go under general anesthesia. Many dental insurance plans will cover some portion of this surgery and many dental offices offer payment plans.

When should people have wisdom teeth surgery?
Since people who have oral surgery after age 35 tend to have more complications, longer recovery times and more challenging surgeries, it’s usually recommended that wisdom teeth come out when roots are about two-thirds formed which is typically when people are 15 to 18 years of age. Those in their late teens or early 20s often find wisdom teeth surgery easier than those who are older.

Am I too old to have wisdom teeth surgery?
Even if you still have your wisdom teeth and you are past your teens, your dental professional might still recommend extraction if you’re experiencing issues caused by them still being in your mouth.

What does wisdom teeth surgery entail?
Wisdom teeth surgery is an outpatient procedure that can be very important to ensure the long-term health of your teeth and mouth. Depending on your needs, your provider will numb the area with a local anesthetic. If you are having more than one wisdom tooth extracted or have anxiety, general anesthesia to allow you to sleep through the procedure might also be used. If you do have general anesthesia, your provider will request that you don’t eat or drink anything past midnight the night before your procedure. Actual surgery typically lasts just 45 minutes, but the entire process can take several hours to include your check-in and post-surgery assessments.

To remove your wisdom teeth, the dentist will open the gum tissue above the tooth and take out any bone that’s covering the tooth and then remove the tooth. In some cases, you might need stitches that often dissolve. You will have a piece of folded cotton gauze pad in your mouth that you will bite on to stop the bleeding.

What You Need to Know about Wisdom Teeth Surgery Recovery

What should I expect after wisdom teeth surgery?
You will likely have pain, swelling, possible bruising and some bleeding after you get your wisdom teeth removed. It will take anywhere from two to three days up to a week to feel completely back to normal, but everyone responds differently. Your dental professional will give you a prescription for pain medicine or will advise regarding over-the-counter pain relief suggestions. Take it easy for the next 24 to 72 hours.

What are some tips to help recover from wisdom tooth surgery?

Keep biting gently on your gauze pads until bleeding stops. Replace a gauze pad when it becomes soaked with blood. Bleeding should stop within 24 hours. Call your dental professional if it doesn’t.
Since your mouth will be numb at first, be careful that you do not bite your cheek, lip or tongue.
Prop your head will pillows; lying flat can prolong bleeding.
Ice packs can reduce swelling. For the first 24 hours, apply for 15 to 20 minutes at a time.
Do not use a straw for two to three days! This can delay healing and cause a dry socket.
You can rinse your mouth with warm salt water after 24 hours. Doing this several times a day can help reduce swelling and promote healing.
Do not BRUSH your teeth for the first 24 hours. Yes, that’s probably the only time your dentist will give you a pass on brushing and flossing.

What should you eat after wisdom teeth surgery?

A soft diet is recommended after wisdom teeth surgery. Here are some suggestions:

Applesauce
Mashed potatoes
Broth-based soup (but nothing too hot)
Jell-O
Pudding
Yogurt
Instant oatmeal
Smoothies
Milkshakes
Soft-serve ice cream

Avoid these foods after wisdom teeth surgery:

Crunchy, chewy or spicy foods for at least a week
Acidic foods
Solid foods
Alcohol and coffee for the first 24 hours

What are dry sockets?
A dry socket is a painful inflammation that can develop in the open tooth socket of the jawbone after a tooth has been extracted. Although it can happen when any tooth is removed, it’s most common with the removal of wisdom teeth.

What causes dry sockets?
When the blood clot is dislodged or disintegrates from the extraction site, bone and nerve endings can be exposed and can cause a dry socket. Typically, dry sockets cause intense pain that can extend up to the ear, they can smell bad and the pain can last several days.

Women suffer from dry sockets more than men. The culprit is believed to be the estrogen hormone. Women who take birth control pills are twice as likely to get dry sockets as those who don’t. For a better chance of avoiding a dry socket, women who take birth control pills should schedule surgery at the end of their menstrual cycle (days 23 to 28).

How do you treat dry sockets?
Contact your dental professional if you suspect a dry socket. If they determine you do have a dry socket, they will often place a medicated gauze pad or paste into the socket, prescribe an antibiotic to get rid of the infection and give you more pain medicine.

Did we answer all your wisdom teeth questions? If you have a question we didn’t answer, give us a call at 1-888-BRIGHT-NOW (1-888-274-4486) or contact us online to schedule a wisdom tooth consultation.