Wisdom Teeth: Everything you wanted to know about extraction

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Around 5 million people have their wisdom teeth removed each year in America. Some consider it a right of passage to adulthood. It is a relatively straightforward procedure. At Murfreesboro Family Dentistry, our goal is to meet all your dental needs at every stage of life. Here are some of the frequently asked questions about wisdom teeth removal that will help you prepare for and navigate the process more comfortably.


What are wisdom teeth?

Wisdom teeth are a third set of molars that are the last set of teeth to grow in. They typically emerge between the ages of 17 and 21. Wisdom teeth got their name because they come in at a more mature age than the rest of your teeth.

If your wisdom teeth come through correctly and there is enough room in your mouth, there is no reason to remove them, and they can help you chew. Wisdom teeth can also lead to dental problems if there isn’t enough space for them or if they come in at the wrong angle.


Why you might need your wisdom teeth removed

Most people don’t have enough room in their mouths for all 32 teeth. If there isn’t enough space for the wisdom teeth to surface or if they come through in the wrong position, it can cause pain, infections, swelling, and crowding of your other teeth.

Impacted wisdom teeth: Because they are in the very back of your mouth, wisdom teeth can get trapped in the jawbone or gums. When this happens, they become “impacted”.

Impacted wisdom teeth can be very painful and lead to infection, especially if they remain just under the gums (called tissue impacted) where bacteria can collect. An impacted wisdom tooth can even form a cyst that might damage neighboring teeth or destroy the bone in your jaw.

Crooked wisdom teeth: Sometimes wisdom teeth come in sideways, or crooked. When this happens, the wisdom teeth can damage the surrounding molars. Even if there is no immediate damage, wisdom teeth and other molars can become more prone to infection and disease over time.

Cavities or gum disease: Because the back of your mouth is a very tight space, it can be difficult to floss and brush wisdom teeth properly, leading to cavities and gum disease that might spread to other teeth. Many oral surgeons prefer to extract wisdom teeth as a preventative measure before a problem arises.

Braces or other dental care: Sometimes dentists recommend extracting wisdom teeth before braces or other dental procedures. This helps create more room for teeth to move around and prevents future dental complications.


Do all wisdom teeth need to be removed?

Technically, not all wisdom teeth need to be extracted. However, many dentists and oral surgeons in the United States prefer to remove wisdom teeth as a preventative measure to reduce the risk of infection, gum disease, and tooth decay rather than wait until a problem comes up. It is also easier to remove wisdom teeth from younger patients, and their recovery time tends to be shorter.

If you decide not to have your wisdom teeth removed, your dentist should monitor them carefully. As you get older, the potential for problems with your wisdom teeth increases. Make sure you brush and floss thoroughly to prevent cavities and gum disease around your molars.


Symptoms of impacted wisdom teeth

Every patient is unique, and some people don’t experience any symptoms when their wisdom teeth are impacted or causing other problems. Some of the common signs or symptoms include:

  • Bad breath
  • An unpleasant taste in your mouth that persists
  • Swelling and pain around the jawline
  • Tightness and difficulty opening your mouth
  • Tender, red, swollen, or bleeding gums

You should contact your dentist if you have any of these symptoms in the back of your mouth, behind your last molar.


What to expect when having your wisdom teeth extracted

Wisdom tooth extraction can be a very straightforward procedure, but it depends on the position and condition of the teeth that need to be removed.

Before surgery:

Your dentist or the oral surgeon will likely take x-rays to assess the roots and surrounding teeth to make a plan for extraction.

The surgeon will also discuss the types of anesthesia to use during the surgery. It is common for people to go under general anesthesia for wisdom tooth extractions, but local anesthesia is also a good option. Several factors might affect this decision, like other health concerns or potential complications.

Be sure to talk with the oral surgeon about any other health problems you might have and the medications you take regularly. It is best to avoid smoking or consuming alcohol for at least 24 hours before the procedure.

The procedure:

The entire surgery usually lasts about 45 minutes as long as there are no complications. The surgeon may need to cut the gums and bone to remove the teeth. If so, they often stitch up the wounds with dissolving stitches to speed the healing process. They may also put gauze around the wounds to absorb some of the blood.

After surgery:

Everyone has a different response to various types of anesthesia. If you received local anesthesia and you feel well enough, you may be able to drive yourself home. However, it is best to arrange to have someone drive you to and from your appointment.

Most people can return to work or school after a day or two of rest. You will likely experience mild discomfort and swelling for a few days. Don’t be surprised if there are bruises around your jaw.

The surgeon may prescribe pain medication depending on the extent of the procedure, but most people use over the counter pain medications.

It will take several weeks for your mouth to heal completely, and it may be uncomfortable at different times. You should follow your surgeon’s instructions to speed the recovery process. Often they recommend the following:

  • Use ice packs on your face to help with the swelling and bruising
  • Moist heat helps soothe your sore jaw muscles. Gently open and close your jaw to stretch your jaw muscles.
  • Drink plenty of water and fluids and eat only soft foods for the first few days, like rice, applesauce, mashed potatoes, pasta, or soup.
  • It is generally safe to begin brushing your teeth after the second day. Be careful not to brush the scabs or stitches.
  • Avoid drinking through a straw because sucking may cause blood clots to break loose and re-open the wounds.
  • Your doctor may recommend rinsing your mouth with salt water or a prescription mouthwash. Don’t rinse too harshly as this might cause the blood clots to break loose.
  • Avoid hard, sticky, or crunchy foods that might be too abrasive against your wounds.

Potential complications

Complications from wisdom tooth extractions are usually not serious and often happen because the patient did not follow the doctor’s instructions.

Dry socket: dry socket develops when a blood clot does not form properly over the opening where the wisdom tooth was removed. This typically happens when a patient rinses their mouth too soon or to rigorously after surgery. Using a straw can also cause dry socket because the sucking action can break the blood clot. Smoking can also cause dry socket.

Fractured maxillary tuberosity or lower jaw: Occasionally, removing wisdom teeth causes a fracture in the maxillary tuberosity, located just behind the upper wisdom teeth. In rare cases, a fracture in the lower jaw can occur during or after surgery.

Nerve damage: In rare cases, some of the nerves in surrounding teeth become damaged as the wisdom tooth is removed. This can cause numbness or paralysis in the lip, cheek, or tongue.

Contact the oral surgeon or your dentist immediately if you believe you have dry socket or infection.


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