Wisdom teeth, or third molars, are the last teeth to develop and appear in your mouth. They come in between the ages of 17 and 25, a time of life that has been called the "Age of Wisdom."
What is an impacted tooth?
When a tooth is unable to fully enter the mouth, it is said to be "impacted." In general, impacted teeth are unable to break through the gums because there is not enough room. Nine out of ten people have at least one impacted wisdom tooth.
How serious is an impacted wisdom tooth?
If left in the mouth, impacted wisdom teeth may damage neighboring teeth or become infected. Because the third molar area of the mouth is difficult to clean, it is a site that invites the bacteria that leads to gum disease. Furthermore, oral bacteria may travel from your mouth through the bloodstream, where it may lead to possible systemic infections and illnesses that affect the heart, kidneys and other organs.
Research has shown that once periodontal disease is established in the third molar areas, the problem is persistent and progressive, but may improve following extraction of the teeth.
In some cases a fluid-filled cyst or tumor may form around the base of the untreated wisdom tooth. As the cyst grows, it may lead to more serious problems as it hollows out the jaw and damages surrounding nerves, teeth and other structures.
What Happens During Surgery?
There are several conditions that affect how easy it will be to remove a wisdom tooth. These conditions include how the tooth is positioned and the stage of root development. If the wisdom teeth are impacted the surgery might be more complicated.
Most of the time third molars can be removed with little or no pain. Usually they can be extracted at the oral and maxillofacial surgery office. Patients are given either local anesthesia, intravenous sedation or general anesthesia. Your dentist will recommend the anesthetic option that is right for you. Be sure to let your dentist know about any illnesses you may have and any medications you are taking.
What Happens after Surgery?
Following surgery, you may experience some swelling and mild discomfort, which are part of the normal healing process. Cold compresses may help decrease the swelling, and medication prescribed by your dentist can help manage the discomfort. You may be instructed to modify your diet following surgery and later progress to more normal foods.
What if I decide to keep my wisdom teeth?
If you decide to keep your wisdom teeth after discussing your decision with your dentist, be sure to take particular care in cleaning and flossing your teeth, especially the molars. Your third molars must be professionally examined regularly and x-rays of your wisdom teeth should be taken every year to make sure that the health of your teeth and gum tissue does not change.