Wisdom Teeth

Your wisdom teeth are also known as your third molars. They are the last teeth to come through and usually erupt in your late teens or early 20s. Most people have four wisdom teeth: two in the upper jaw and two in the lower. Occasionally, some people have more, fewer or no wisdom teeth at all.

What’s all the fuss about wisdom teeth?

Some people’s wisdom teeth push through without any issue, so nothing needs to be done. However, many people today have problems with their wisdom teeth because, over thousands of years, our jawbones have gradually become smaller. Consequently, our wisdom teeth have difficulty finding the space to push through our already crowded jaws.

Often, due to tooth crowding, wisdom teeth push through at an angle, into the gum or neighbouring tooth. This is known as impaction. Impaction can be dangerous as it can cause pain, tooth decay and gum infections. And other times, the tooth can only partially erupt. Food particles and bacteria can get stuck in this area which can be difficult or impossible to clean, creating the perfect environment for bacteria to spread and infections to form.

Are my wisdom teeth okay?

You may wonder if your wisdom teeth are going to cause troubles further ahead. Often, the dentist will x-ray a teenager to see how their teeth are positioned and if their wisdom teeth will have room. If it appears that your teeth are too crowded and your wisdom teeth will create problems, your dentist will likely suggest wisdom teeth removal.

If it is clear that you must remove your wisdom teeth, the consensus is ‘the sooner, the better’. This is because the younger you are, the softer the tooth root. If you wait until later, the roots are fully formed and tougher, making the surgical process more difficult and possibly more painful.

Reasons for wisdom teeth removal

Your dentist will recommend wisdom teeth removal if you experience any of the following:

  • Infection
  • Cysts
  • Gum disease
  • Pain
  • Damage to other teeth
  • An inability to clean your rear teeth due to wisdom teeth impaction
  • You require braces and your orthodontist believes you need additional space to move other teeth backwards.

How to treat a wisdom tooth infection

If your wisdom teeth are infected, a dentist will likely suggest removal as soon as possible. Even if the infection cleared, it’s likely to recur. In the interim, you may need to do the following:

  • Try to keep the area as clean as possible through brushing, flossing and rinsing
  • Have your teeth professionally cleaned
  • Take antibiotics (if prescribed by the dentist or doctor)
  • Take over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol
  • Rinse your mouth with warm salty water or chlorhexidine mouthwash
  • Apply a cold compress to the outside of your mouth for pain relief

Your wisdom teeth should only be removed after a thorough oral examination and x-ray deeming the surgery necessary.

Wisdom teeth removal

Your wisdom teeth should only be removed after a thorough oral examination and x-ray deeming the surgery necessary. If required, surgery is performed either in-chair at the dental clinic (using local anaesthetic and possibly twilight sedation) or a hospital (under twilight anaesthesia or a general anaesthetic).

After your surgery, your gums will be stitched to help you to heal. Your gums and jaw will be sore, swollen and possibly bleed for a few days after surgery.

Wisdom teeth surgery: After-care

Your dentist will thoroughly run through your required after-care after wisdom teeth surgery. However, here are a few basic guidelines of what’s involved:

  • Most people require a week off work. After a week, you should be able to resume most day-to-day activities.
  • Take pain relief medication (either over-the-counter or prescription, as advised by your health practitioner)
  • Rinse your mouth with warm, salty water several times a day, especially after meals. However, do not do this for the first 24 hours after surgery.
  • Eat soft, easy-to-chew foods for the first few days
  • Avoid alcohol
  • Don’t smoke for at least 48 hours after surgery

Complications from wisdom to surgery

All surgical procedures carry risk. Speak to your dentist for more information. The following complications may occur after wisdom teeth removal surgery:

  • Pain
  • Swelling and bruising
  • Excessive bleeding
  • Infection
  • Sinus problems
  • Broken jaw
  • Damage to nerves
  • Damage to nearby teeth
  • Osteonecrosis – a rare condition where the tissues in your jawbone begin to die off
  • Retained roots (where it was not possible to remove the whole truth)
  • Dry socket – a painful condition where the socket does not heal well
  • Jaw stiffness or an inability to fully open your mouth (trismus)

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