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Wisdom teeth are the last teeth to develop. Also known as the third set of molars, wisdom teeth grow at the back of the mouth.
Not everyone gets wisdom teeth. But they tend to develop during early adulthood between the ages of 17 and 25. Most people grow four wisdom teeth, two on the top and two on the bottom. Some people are congenitally missing one or more wisdom teeth.
Wisdom teeth may not cause problems when they grow in alignment with the teeth. But wisdom teeth can become trapped in the jawbone or gums when they don’t have enough room to grow or emerge properly. This is called an impacted wisdom tooth.
In some cases, an impacted wisdom tooth doesn’t cause any symptoms. But people with impacted wisdom teeth can experience symptoms that develop gradually or suddenly.
Impacted wisdom teeth can cause:
Impacted wisdom teeth occur for several reasons, or a combination of factors.
Common causes of an impacted wisdom tooth include:
Talk to a dentist if you experience or notice:
To diagnose someone with an impacted wisdom tooth, a dentist or periodontist will:
Asymptomatic impacted wisdom teeth that don’t cause dental problems may not require surgical removal. They are sometimes recommended to be left alone if they are close to important structures like nerves or blood vessels.
But in most cases, an impacted wisdom tooth requires surgical removal by oral and maxillofacial surgeons, if they:
Oral surgeons or periodontists (gum specialists) may also remove impacted wisdom teeth as a preventative measure to reduce the risk of future problems.
Wisdom teeth extraction is typically an outpatient procedure done by an oral surgeon. This means you can go home the same day.
Before the surgery, you’ll be given local medications that make it more comfortable, such as:
After administering anesthesia, the periodontist will:
After surgery, most people experience throbbing pain and swelling on the impacted side of the face and mouth. This swelling tends to be most severe during the first 2 days, then gradually decreases.
Many people experience other symptoms post-surgery, such as:
A doctor will typically give you pain relievers after surgery, usually a combination of tylenol and ibuprofen. Most people start taking pain medications once the anesthesia wears off, typically 3 to 4 hours after surgery. You should take these medications every few hours per the dentist’s instructions.
To reduce pain and swelling, you can apply ice or a cold compress to the area for a few minutes, several times daily. It may also help to eat soft, cold foods and drinks.
A periodontist or dentist will tell you how to handle stitches or sutures before going home. Sometimes they dissolve naturally or with gentle brushing after a few days. Other times, a doctor needs to remove them.
You can normally do gentle activities, like walking, a few days after surgery. Talk to your doctor about when to start doing more strenuous or high-impact activities.
Most people recover fully 1 to 2 weeks after wisdom teeth surgery. They can resume most regular activities, like going to work or school, a few days after the surgery.
As with most surgeries, you can experience some complications while recovering from wisdom teeth removal.
Common complications include:
Bacteria and bits of food can get stuck in and infect the tooth socket. Oral antibiotics treat infections. To prevent infection, practice increased oral hygiene after surgery. You can also use an antiseptic mouth rinse while the area heals.
A dry socket develops when a blood clot doesn’t form over the socket or dislodges or dissolves too early. This leaves the bone and nerves exposed. It can be very painful and cause a bad taste in the mouth.
To treat dry socket, a doctor cleans the area and fills the socket with medicated gauze.
To reduce the risk of dry socket, practice good oral hygiene and avoid things that put pressure on the healing socket, like using a straw. You can also rinse the area with warm saltwater.
Learn more about dry sockets here.
In rare cases, surgery damages the jawbone, sinuses, nerves, or other teeth. This can lead to pain or paralysis. You may need to undergo additional oral surgery to repair the damage.
A pocket of pus called a subperiosteal abscess can develop between the open socket and the tissue covering it. It will need to be addressed by a doctor, and you may need to take antibiotics.
Impacted wisdom teeth may be left in place if they don’t cause any symptoms or dental complications. If they aren’t removed, clean and floss around wisdom teeth frequently and visit the dentist regularly.
But neglecting impacted wisdom teeth can cause several complications and dental problems, including:
Dentists use different terms to describe impacted wisdom teeth, such as:
A dentist may also describe the type of impacted wisdom tooth you have based on its positioning:
Impacted wisdom teeth occur when wisdom teeth get trapped in the bone or gums.
Most impacted wisdom teeth are removed surgically. Many people can return to their normal activities a few days to weeks after surgery.
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