Horror stories abound about the removal of wisdom teeth, also known as ‘third molars’ but what exactly are wisdom teeth and do these stories have any foundation?
Wisdom teeth usually appear between the ages of 17 and 25, with adults usually having four of them, although having more than this number is not unusual.
They are believed to have been termed ‘wisdom’ teeth due to the timing of their arrival in late childhood, when a child is likely to be ‘wiser’ than when their earlier teeth arrive. Perhaps surprisingly also, around a third of the population never develop wisdom teeth.
Because wisdom teeth are the last to appear, they often have an impact on the teeth which are already there as they have a tendency to appear at irregular angles, pushing against and putting pressure on, the current teeth.
When this happens, there is usually a need for their removal. Another likely reason for their removal is the potential problems that they may cause, depending on their position, if food becomes trapped in the area behind the back wisdom tooth where it is extremely difficult to brush and floss.
But what about the alleged pain when a wisdom tooth has to be extracted?
Occasionally it may be necessary to have wisdom teeth extracted at a hospital under general anaesthetic, but in most cases, this is not necessary. As with most dental procedures, the gum is injected with a local anaesthetic which will numb the area thereby removing the likelihood of the patient feeling any pain. There will however be a sensation of pressure as the wisdom tooth is removed.
In the majority of cases, a wisdom tooth will be removed fairly simply, however as the wisdom teeth often appear at irregular angles, this can lead to them become stuck under bone which may lead to the dentist needing to drill away some of the bone. On occasions, the tooth may also need to be drilled into smaller pieces to enable it to be removed more easily. Once the procedure has finished, the gum is stitched using dissolvable stitches.
After the procedure to remove the teeth, it is not unusual for the mouth to feel sore for a few days afterwards and swelling and bruising are also not uncommon, however all should return to normal within a week or so.
After a procedure to remove wisdom teeth, it is important to rest and it may be necessary, depending on the patient’s occupation, to take some time off work.
Special care should be taken when brushing around the affected area to avoid the dissolvable stitches. It is also sensible to use an antiseptic mouthwash or even simply a warm salt mouthwash.