Wisdom teeth are the third set of molars, and usually emerge in the late teens or early twenties. Standard dental practice is to remove wisdom teeth prior to them being fully formed when the roots have not yet had a chance to develop and fully root into the jaw. Younger patients usually have an easier recovery from surgery and many dentists believe early removal prevents future dental problems associated with wisdom teeth.
If your wisdom teeth were not removed as they emerged, there are some signs and symptoms that would indicate the need for extraction including:
- Wisdom teeth that are impacted, which means they have become trapped in the jawbone or gums.
- Wisdom teeth that are emerging at an awkward angle, causing pressure on adjacent teeth.
- Wisdom teeth that do not fit in your mouth, causing crowding of the surrounding teeth as well.
- Wisdom teeth that are suffering from decay or disease caused by the inability to keep them cleaned properly.
- Wisdom teeth that have developed fluid-filled cysts near the gumline.
- Wisdom teeth that are causing pain due to any of the above reasons.
The decision about whether or not to remove your wisdom teeth should be made in consultation with your dental professional. Your dentist or oral surgeon can assess the position and health of your wisdom teeth and make a recommendation for treatment.
If extraction is recommended, they may choose to extract one tooth or all four molars at once. Recovery from the outpatient procedure takes just a few days, and you will quickly be back to normal. Consult with your dental professional if you are experiencing any of these symptoms listed to determine if you should consider wisdom tooth removal to ensure your future good oral health.
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Your third molars, or wisdom teeth, are usually the last to make their appearance in your mouth. Some people don’t even have them break through at all. Whether or not they erupt, they can wreak havoc in your mouth if there isn’t enough room for them. If they become impacted, removal becomes even more important.
Your dentist will monitor your wisdom teeth through examinations and X-rays, and will recommend extraction if it appears they may cause any complications. Some dentists suggest removing them even if they aren’t impacted, as they can be difficult to clean and therefore prone to decay. Wisdom teeth may even get infected, requiring immediate medical attention. Symptoms of infected wisdom teeth can include:
- Pain in the tooth and gums
- Gum bleeding
- Gum inflammation
- Swelling in the face and jaw
- Bad breath
If your dentist says you need to have your wisdom teeth extracted, don’t put it off because it is better to have them removed before further complications occur. Usually, you will be referred to an oral surgeon for extraction. If only one tooth is involved, local anesthesia may be sufficient. The removal of multiple wisdom teeth typically requires general anesthesia, and is a day surgery so that you can return home afterwards.
It is important for you to follow your doctor’s instructions after tooth extraction to avoid problems. Your activities might be restricted for the first day or two, ice or heat can be helpful, and care should be taken if stitches are present. You will also be given a list of foods that are suggested during your recovery. If you follow all of your doctor’s advice, you can be expect to return to your normal activities soon and no longer have to worry about any problems those teeth might cause.
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If you didn’t have your wisdom teeth out as a young person, you may be wondering about having them out as an adult. Your dentist may have recommended that you prevent future infections, cysts or pain in the jaw due to wisdom teeth that are growing under other teeth – known as impacted teeth. Even a type of tumor has been linked to impacted wisdom teeth.
Impacted teeth result when the wisdom tooth grows up under an existing tooth. Sometimes, adults have wisdom teeth that come in completely straight behind back molars. In rare cases, one or more of these teeth don’t grow at all. An x-ray can reveal the presence of the teeth. Impacted teeth cause problems with existing teeth and must come out.
Because the roots of wisdom teeth typically fully develop near the age of 24, removing them after this time can be more complicated. Roots can entwine with facial nerves, making extraction problematic. It’s recommended that adults receive a CT scan of their jaw, showing the clear positioning of facial nerves and roots, something not shown by x-rays. If the roots of the lower wisdom teeth aren’t touching or wrapped around the alveolar nerve, extraction is still possible.
Adults with wisdom teeth are at higher risk for gum disease. Gum disease has been linked to an increase of pregnancy complication and other health issues. Previously believed only to affect patients in their late 30s, this gum disease is now being shown to affect much younger patients, especially young pregnant women. Growing evidence is also connecting gum disease to inflammation due to chronic infections in the body, leading to an increased risk of diabetes and heart disease.
Talk to your dentist today to see if you should have your wisdom teeth removed. Be honest about any symptoms you’re having, such as pain or pressure, and let the professional evaluate your specific situation.
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Chewing and swallowing can be tricky after wisdom tooth extraction. Gauze pads and a sore mouth can make eating sound unappealing, but it is vital to your healing to maintain a healthy diet. When you have a tooth extracted, a clot forms to help with healing. It’s important not to disrupt the clot, which means it is crucial to maintain a soft-food diet. In addition, spicy, acidic or hard-to-chew foods can cause additional discomfort and prevent healing.
For the first one or two weeks after your wisdom tooth extraction, plan to stick to a diet of soft, easy-to-chew foods. This guideline does not mean you are stuck eating Jello for your entire recovery period. Some suggestions for healthy foods that would be appropriate after wisdom tooth extraction include:
- Mashed potatoes
- Cottage cheese
- Macaroni and cheese
Be careful never to use a straw during recovery, as the suction can remove the clots in your gums and create problems with healing. Some of these foods may still be too chewy, so you will need to gauge if they need to be cooked longer or further softened to make them easier to ingest. Pasta or macaroni can be overcooked to make it easier to chew, and soups can be blended to eliminate chunks of vegetables or meat. Be sure to follow the aftercare and eating recommendations of your oral surgeon, and don’t push yourself to return to normal foods until your mouth feels ready.
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